Rockefeller Museum was the main museum of antiquities in Palestine during the British Mandate period. It was opened in 1938, and its exhibitions have not changed to this day. Combined with its august design, it is one of the best examples of institutions from British times.
History of the Rockefeller Museum
The Rockefeller Museum was founded, well, by John D. Rockefeller Jr., after his offer to sponsor a museum in Cairo was declined. It was designed by Austin Harrison, the chief architect of the Mandatory department for public works. The structure is built of local white limestone, and its elegant and eclectic design quotes elements from a variety of buildings across Jerusalem.
The exhibition is set in chronological order, and the collections are based on archaeological digs conducted throughout Palestine in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
The museum was opened in 1938, twice. The first opening was cancelled as one of the archaeologists was assassinated by Arabs on his way to the ceremony. The Museum became under Jordanian control in 1948. The Jordanians did not modify the exhibitions but covered any Hebrew signs with tape. Since 1967 the Museum operates on behalf of the Israel Museum, and its offices are used by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The Museum also has one of the best book collections for Biblical and Levantine Archaeology.
Visiting the Rockefeller Museum
The Museum still exhibits the original display from the day it opened. The main halls are set in chronological order, from Prehistory, to the Mamluk period. The side wings are devoted to topics such as Egyptian finds, Jewish Archaeology, artifacts from Al-Aqsa Mosque, artifacts from the Holy Sepulchre, and finds from Khirbet el-Mafjar Muslim palace. Reaching the museum is not so easy, as there is limited public transportation to it, nor parking place in the compound. It is also not open every day, and when it is open, its only for 6 hours. Still, the Rockefeller Museum is a classic “hidden gem”, and a MUST for anyone interested in Biblical Archaeology.
For a full appreciation of the site it is recommended to combine it in a guided day tour of Jerusalem.