Okay folks, it is time for another Israel Mystery Photo! In this game, I show you a picture I took somewhere on tour in Israel, and then you try to identify it. Then in the next post, I put on my guide hat, and give you some more information about it! So, post your guesses here about where the picture to the left was taken. I’ll tell you all about it next time.
Meanwhile, as most people guessed last time around (both in the comments and when I posted it on Facebook), the last Israel Mystery Photo was taken at the YMCA building in Jerusalem, way up high in the bell tower. Anyone who has visited Jerusalem knows that the YMCA is one of the most beautiful structures in the city. And the tower offers some of the best 360-degree views in town.
Opened in 1933, the YMCA building had been under construction since 1924, even before the street on which it was situated. Now called King David Street, is was then called King Julian Way. 1931 saw the opening of the famous King David Hotel right across the way. But as beautiful as that hotel was (seen as the first themed hotel in the world), the YMCA building put it to shame.
The building was designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon, who also designed New York’s famous Empire State Building. Both were the tallest buildings in their respective cities when first built. While the architectural style of the YMCA can be described as eclectic style, combining features from many traditions, it still clings to some of the same Art Deco elements that made the Empire State such an iconic structure.
Much like the modern Supreme Court building, the YMCA also embodies its messages in three dimensions. The founders wanted the YMCA in Jerusalem to be a place where members of all three monotheistic religions could meet and interact. But they also wanted it to embody the ideals of the organization itself.
Thus, the building’s three wings represent Body, Soul and Spirit, but each is also tied to one of the three religions. “Body” contains the gymnasium and is tied to Islam; “Spirit” has an auditorium and library and relates to Judaism; “Soul” is the central wing and has a chapel for Christianity. But it also represents the universal aspects, with an ecumenical prayer room.
Even the materials were sourced from significant locations. Stones there were among the last ever quarried from Zedekiah’s cave, the ancient quarry that might have been used in the construction of Herod’s Temple. A 17th Century painted wooden ceiling was brought here from Damascus as well.
Other symbolism can be found in the number of trees out front, the number of windows, and some of the specific images carved in stone (e.g. a Seraph, the 4 Apostles, a lamb, a jug-carrying woman).
The YMCA also featured Jerusalem’s first swimming pool, and its only football (soccer) stadium until 1991. Let me know if you want me to bring you to the YMCA on your next trip here, for the view from the tower and/or for a look at the gorgeous masonry and architecture.
I am currently working on a comprehensive blog post about Jerusalem’s famed Machane Yehuda outdoor market. If you have any questions about it, please send me an email!