Overhead, projected stars that herald the world's creation mingle with the real stars that shine down on Jerusalem. Below, thousands of visitors sit in awe, as they take a personal trip through Jerusalem's glorious and often pain-filled history.
For 45 minutes even little children sit spellbound, gazing at the three-dimensional images that make it seem real, as though it's happening right now. When the evil Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar burns the Temple in BCE 586, everyone cringes, expecting to feel the flames.
We see King David — 40 feet tall — plucking at his lyre, then the Queen of Sheba arriving with her exotic gifts. There's Jerusalem as it was in Solomon's day, dense with people, their tiny houses crammed together with the Temple, rising in majesty in their midst. Fire destroys the city for the first time, and Jews flee into the Diaspora.
You can't help but be sad as grass sprouts and grows amid the crumbled ruins. Then Jerusalem miraculously rebounds, and Herod's Temple rises right before our eyes. Massive levers haul gigantic stones to the highest peaks. When the stone masons teeter, high up on their scaffolds, people gasp, lest they fall.
The next fire is heartbreaking, as the Temple's exquisite golden menorah, rescued from the flames, is hastily carted away.
Realistic Crusaders ride in, their armor clinking with menace. Then Jerusalem stabilizes under the Turks, before suffering returns under the British mandate. When the final scene appears — "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem" — no one moves.
Is it really over?
"Night Spectacular," the newest light and sound show commissioned by the Tower of David, the Museum of the History of Jerusalem, is nothing if not aptly named. Just before the celebration of the Festival of Lights, few entertainment packages offer the wow factor of "Night Spectacular."
It's not the first pyrotechnics show the museum curated.
"It's our second light-and-sound show," says museum director Shosh Yaniv. "Even before the museum opened, back in the 1970s and '80s, the Tower of David had a somewhat similar presentation. We closed it when the intifada started and our visitors dwindled, but, actually, the technology of that show had become dated — it wasn't astonishing anymore.
"Even so, 10 years after it closed, people still called the museum, asking if it was still playing," reports Yaniv. "Everyone who saw it remembered it. Lots of people wanted to see it again."
Having something truly memorable to show at night was the museum's goal: "Because our first show was so popular, we wanted another light-and-sound show, but something really magnificent, something cutting-edge in technology. Because Jerusalem, the city, is so significant, we wanted something really unique. The thing is, during the day, there are more things to do and see in Jerusalem than anyone can cover.
"But at night, Jerusalem is just like any other big city — good restaurants and theater, but that's not what people want when they come to Jerusalem. We've got this great treasure, the Tower of David, which — all by itself — is amazing at night. So, if we could produce another great nighttime event, we knew we'd have something special."
Yaniv and museum curator, Renee Sivan, and their staffs set about finding someone who could create a light-and-sound show worthy of the tower — and worthy of Jerusalem.
"We looked all over the world," says Yaniv. "Finally, in Paris, we found the Skertzo Group, a unique production company specializing in technical productions in historic sites. We knew we were asking for a monumental effort, presenting the complex and controversial history of the city of Jerusalem in such a way that everyone, of all three faith traditions, both visitors and local Israelis, would enjoy."
The Skertzo Group used the Citadel itself as their stage. "They utilized every peak, every nook and cranny, from the tops of the Citadel towers and turrets, the ancient ruins and hidden pathways, to the bottom of the historic walls," she explains.
"They blanketed the whole thing with projected images and let them tell the story. We were just amazed — they succeeded brilliantly, way beyond anything we'd dared dream they could do."
The technology itself is unique, never before done anywhere in the world, she says. Film projectionists used everything from trompe l'oeil to complicated media screening through four sophisticated computer systems. The show plays through 20 projectors, 10 video players, 10 video servers and 14 speakers, connected by seven miles of cable, all delivered through two separate projection rooms.
"When people ask, 'But what's it like?' it's hard to explain," admits curator Sivan. "We talk about the outdoor show, with three-dimensional historical images projected on the walls of the Tower of David. But it's really more dramatic than that.
"As the real sun sets over the city, the story of Jerusalem unfolds with this blaze of images. You're completely enveloped in a multisensory experience, because it's not just images, it's sound, too.
"étienne Perruchon, who has written operas and symphonies, as well as film and television soundtracks, composed the original score, which he calls 'The Song of Jerusalem.' Altogether, when you experience 'Night Spectacular,' you feel you're being caught up and transported to a different time and place."
"Night Spectacular: Jerusalem Lights the Night" plays five nights a week, except during the rain, at the Historic Tower of David in Jerusalem's Old City.
For information, log on to: www.towerofdavid.org.il.