A Museological Experience Funded by the Shuki Levy Foundation
Gila Hurvitz – Curator, and Eliav Nahlieli – Designer and Producer
In May 2007, a unique and innovative museological experience was introduced at Masada.
Combining archaeological artefacts and a theatrical atmosphere, together with accompanying radio play and audio explanations, it creates a meaningful guided tour of the Story of Masada.
The archaeological artefacts, dug at the site of Masada between 1963 and 1965 by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of the late Professor Yigael Yadin, are exhibited in illuminated showcases spread over nine theatrical scenes. The artefacts focus around three main themes: Herod, the Rebels, and the Roman Army.
The atmosphere surrounding the visitor and the artefacts is presented against a life-size backdrop, which includes the floor, walls, sculpted figures, and architectural elements – all of which have been executed meticulously and painted in shades of dark grey to black to create the feeling of an “absent presence” that fades into the dark. The minimal lighting that permeates the museum space exposes the visitor to three-dimensional allusions that emphasize dramatic angles of the backdrop. In each of the scenes, an implied dialogue takes place between the artefacts and the setting. The lighting concentrated inside the showcases lends the feeling that the archaeological artefacts are hovering in the dark and are the source of light for the surrounding backdrop.
The visitor will move through the designed spaces with earphones and will listen to informative explanations of what lies before them, including a dramatic presentation that will help him or her “see and feel” the story behind the archaeological finds. The radio play will be “the shining light” on the black backdrop that, together with the archaeological finds that tell the dramatic story of Masada, will essentially take the visitor into the past.
The integration and harmony between archaeological artefacts, theatrical backdrop, radio play, and audio presentation create a unique experience that invites the visitor to become one with the amazing story of Masada. The strong tie between the archaeological artefacts and the accompanying backdrop finds expression in each of the nine spaces. So, for example, we find a stone table and luxurious tablewares – together with inscriptions on amphoras specifying the types of wine and a variety of delicacies that graced King Herod’s table – against the background of a banquet scene held in a Roman villa. In another space describing the living quarters of the rebels in the casemate walls, we find simple cooking vessels, remnants of clothing, straw baskets, brushes, and Hebrew inscriptions that bespeak the daily life of the Jewish fighters and their families at Masada. In yet another area, Latin inscriptions and objects associated with the Roman army are exhibited against the setting of an army camp of the Tenth Roman Legion that laid siege to Masada.
The audio explanations and the radio play will allow the visitor to connect the artefacts with the backdrop and will make him the narrator’s confidant throughout the telling of the story. This is first and foremost the historical account that has come down to us through the writings of Flavius Josephus; meeting the historian in his garden in Rome marks the beginning of the journey through the museum. The visitor will experience various chapters of history – from the years of rule of King Herod, builder of Masada; moving on through the years of the Great Revolt against Rome, a period in which the rebels lived on the mountaintop; and ending with the Roman siege and the fall of Masada. The last space in the museum is dedicated to the excavator of the site, Professor Yigael Yadin, and concludes the fascinating story of Masada that has been presented between two poles – beginning with the narrator-historian Flavius Josephus and ending with the excavator and archaeologist Yigael Yadin.
The Masada Museum is an experiential journey. In its centre we find the archaeological objects in their historical context against a theatrical backdrop that affords depth to the finds and an emotional experience for the visitor. This special museological approach was developed by designer Eliav Nahlieli and his Programa 1 team, together with curator Gila Hurvitz and the staff of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The project is an innovative and daring approach and serves as a milestone in museum presentations in Israel and abroad.
Initiator: Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Excavations and Research: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Artefacts: Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Curatorship and Content: Gila Hurvitz and the staff of the Institute of Archaeology
Design & Production: Eliav Nahlieli and the Programa 1 team
Israel Antiquities Authority
Israel Government Tourist Corporation
Bank of Israel
Israel Nature and Parks Authority Management
Staff of the Masada National Park
Legal Representation: Hagai Strohweiss, Attorney
The project was made possible by The Shuki Levy Foundation, Los Angeles.