in the garden

 

Nov 2008 Journal

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Letter from Israel

New bridge for an old city

After years of construction work that obstructed the entrance to the city and inconvenienced drivers and pedestrians alike, Jerusalem has finally been exposed to the work of the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in the form of a unique suspension bridge. The cantilever spar cable-stayed bridge, which straddles the entrance to the city and will eventually carry the light railway (another major construction project which has been causing havoc throughout the city and will apparently continue to do so for several more years), cost the Jerusalem municipality and government NIS 220 million - well over the original projected budget. The bridge and the light railway are intended to eventually ease the burden of the ever-increasing volume of vehicular traffic, for which Jerusalem’s narrow streets were never intended.

Opinions about the bridge are divided among Jerusalem’s residents. As might have been expected, there are those who like it and those who don’t. Some people claim that the bridge, which consists of a single 119-meter-high mast supported by 66 steel cables, will not be able to bear the weight of the light railway when it finally begins operating and will collapse, crushing whoever is unfortunate enough to be underneath it at that moment.

Some ‘cognoscenti’ have voiced criticisms on such lines as ‘The bridge is not in the right place because it is obscured by the buildings around it. It would be better if it were placed by a river or on the top of a mountain.’ Such views are all well and good but miss the point, namely, that the bridge is needed just where it is in order to span the point where several major arteries converge at the entrance to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t have a river and over the years buildings have been erected at its entrance.

Personally, I find the bridge a pleasing sight each time I approach Jerusalem. The 119-meter mast dominates the skyline no matter from where it is viewed and, as one gets closer, one begins to see the steel cables extending from it in a fan-shape to the earth below. Depending from where one looks, one can perceive the structure supporting the bridge as a bird about to take flight, a benevolent spirit extending its benediction over the city or even a guardian angel. At any event, the soaring structure seems to symbolise something spiritual and uplifting that is entirely in keeping with the unique mystique of the city.

Another element in favour of the bridge is its very modernity. Jerusalem is associated with much that is old, venerable, ancient and antique. The very name of the city conjures up associations with ancient history, the Bible, ancient civilisations and figures from the past. But Jerusalem is a living, breathing city, with light industry, institutions, shopping malls and cinemas. It is high time it shook off the musty aura of the past and faced up to the reality of the twenty-first century.

The Calatrava bridge has succeeded in providing Jerusalem with an emblem that is both aesthetic and functional, while at the same time imbuing it with a quality that is very much of the here and now. Once the light railway is up and running and Jerusalem’s streets are less clogged than they are today, the city will take on a more modern aspect. Although Jerusalem’s leaders have not always brought credit to the city, they must be praised for having had the foresight to embark upon this ambitious and courageous undertaking.
 


 

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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