Following a $50 million renovation, the Tower of David Museum has a spectacular new accessway with the Angelina Drahi Entrance Pavilion.

Comparable to I. M. Pei’s iconic pyramid that transformed the entrance to Paris’ Musée du Louvre, the glass-and-steel structure is a minimalist, less-is-more architectural triumph that redefines the orientation of the museum's galleries and just about everything else in this historic cultural hub.

Located in a sprawling structure that served as a palace and fort for nearly three millennia until 1967, the Tower of David today compellingly recounts the history of the holy city of Jerusalem.

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The entrance pavilion had been scheduled to open on Nov. 3, but was postponed because of the Gaza Strip war that erupted with Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. Opened to the public recently after more than a decade of planning and three years of construction, the 10,763 square-foot pavilion is nestled between the medieval ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City and the ancient citadel walls.

Barely visible from the Jaffa Gate and its pedestrian plaza, the multi-level, mostly sunken entrance pavilion was designed to comply with municipal building regulations restricting construction above the height of the Old City walls.

Architects Etan Kimmel and Yotam Cohen-Sagi had to excavate almost 19 yards to gain the space to house the museum’s ticket office, a temporary exhibition gallery and offices for the education department. Shafts allow light to flood into the subterranean levels.

In May, an indoor-outdoor café will open, which may incorporate signage and accoutrements from Fink’s, a legendary Jerusalem watering hole that existed from 1932 to 2005 which Newsweek once called one of the 50 best bars in the world.

“The opportunity to bring the 21st century to this ancient iconic site is both a duty and an honour,” Kimmel said. “We were set the task of renovating one of the earliest and most important architectural treasures of Jerusalem. Our challenge boiled down to our ability to find solutions to preserve the ancient stones that represent Jerusalem’s past without compromising their historic value or their beauty, while planning new architectural structures and introducing modern infrastructure using modern materials to create a fruitful, interesting meeting between the new and the old.”

Before the architects could begin construction, Israel’s Antiquities Authority archaeologists conducted a thorough salvage dig.

“You only need to use a teaspoon to dig up antiquities in the Old City of Jerusalem, and this is even more true when you are building a structure underground next to a citadel thousands of years old,” Cohen-Sagi said.

Astonishingly, perhaps because much of the site was once a moat, no great treasures from Jerusalem’s past were found. Construction proceeded as planned.

“No other museum can tell Jerusalem’s story in such a distinctive setting, within this citadel that has witnessed so many eventful periods in the city’s past,” said Eilat Lieber, the museum’s director and chief curator. “Alongside the physical conservation of the walls and towers of this ancient site, we have developed a completely new permanent exhibition and creative programming that tells Jerusalem’s long, complex and colourful history in respectful, innovative and engaging ways.”

The museum now boasts 10 galleries spread throughout the ancient citadel that bring the story of Jerusalem to life through ancient artifacts mixed with the latest in immersive and interactive technology. Amongst the displays are cut-away maquettes of landmark shrines, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Dome of the Rock. The latter building has been closed to non-Muslims since 2000. Thus, the Tower of David allows an understanding of what would otherwise be completely off-limits.

Among the many unique artifacts is the 1:500 scale model of Jerusalem, which Stephen Illés made for the 1873 Vienna World Fair. Additional digital media were added when the renovated Tower of David Museum (without the entrance pavilion) opened last June.

Arguably, the most controversial part of the Tower of David is the remains of Herod’s Palace. Catholic tradition dating back to the Middle Ages places the praetorium — where the trial of Jesus was held, according to the Gospels — in the Antonia Fortress in the northeastern quadrant of the Old City.

Archaeologists, however, believe the fort named after Mark Antony would have been too small to be the residence and headquarters of the governor. When Pontius Pilate came to Jerusalem for the Passover festival in 33 CE, he likely stayed in Herod’s royal compound. Jesus’ trial thus was likely held here, making stations 1 through 6 of the Via Dolorosa an invention of the Franciscans some eight centuries ago.

For visitors to stand among the remains of King Herod’s palace is to gain a realistic historical appreciation for the circumstances that led to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.

Gil Zohar was born in Toronto and moved to Jerusalem in 1982. He is a journalist writing for The Jerusalem Post, Segula magazine and other publications. He’s also a professional tour guide who likes to weave together the Holy Land’s multiple narratives.