Tel Aviv: Art & Architecture

By - February 1, 2008

In less than 100 years, Tel Aviv has evolved from a small, seaside village in the sand dunes of the eastern Mediterranean to a vital urban metropolis with a comfortable Euro-Med lifestyle.

Founded in 1909, when Jews in the Arab town of Jaffa decided to establish a Jewish village along the beach, Tel Aviv began on 12 acres of sand dunes north of Jaffa. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Tel Aviv grew rapidly, thanks in large part to an influx of young European Jews, whose Zionist ideals led them to settle in what was then Palestine. Later, as Hitler’s power in Germany increased, so did the number of European Jews settling in Tel Aviv.

Among the early 20th century settlers were several architects trained in or influenced by Bauhaus, the German school of architecture founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius to explore a design philosophy in which form and function balance to create structures that are both aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound. Before their arrival, most buildings in Tel Aviv were modeled after traditional Middle Eastern dwellings, flat-topped or domed stone structures built around a central courtyard. Despite the challenges of heat, humidity and sunlight stronger than any they had experienced in northern Europe, Tel Aviv’s new architects went on a building spree, and by the early 1940s the city had one of the world’s largest concentrations of buildings designed in the International or Bauhaus style. These buildings, numbering in the thousands and painted white to reflect the hot sunlight, became known as Tel Aviv’s “White City” on the Mediterranean.

Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus neighborhoods have received UNESCO World Heritage status, but these white, geometric-shaped buildings seem archaic compared to the urban modernization and startling economic growth that now surrounds them. Although tourism to Tel Aviv ebbs and flows with the tides of Mideast politics, the city’s business community has seen steady growth, seemingly immune to the fickle nature of peace negotiations. Israel’s gross domestic product has been growing at 5 percent per year for the past four years, and more than 65 venture capital funds invested $2 billion in Israel last year alone. Israel has the highest concentration of start-up companies in the world, outside of Silicon Valley, and Tel Aviv, as Israel’s commercial center, reaps the benefits from the national economic surge. Shadowing the three- and four-story historic Bauhaus buildings are soaring opalescent glass office towers, including City Gate, a 68-story building constructed in 2001, one of the tallest structures in the Middle East and Europe.

During the past decade Tel Aviv has seen its business focus shift from small manufacturing and diamond cutting and polishing to technology, financial services and pharmaceuticals. CNN Money listed Tel Aviv as one of the 12 best cities for business travelers, the result of the dramatic increase in corporations that now list a Tel Aviv address, and for the business services that are now available to travelers. Many of the multinational giants have offices here, including Intel, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, IBM and Microsoft, which will open a new research and development center in Tel Aviv. At the same time, Israeli companies are raising their international profiles.

With less than 7 million residents in the entire country, Israeli firms have had to export their products just to survive, and Tel Aviv’s communications, transportation logistics and glittering residential areas have persuaded many of Israel’s leading firms to make their headquarters here, or in the nearby suburbs. The Tel Aviv metroplex is known as “Gush Dan,” a name derived from biblical times, when the territory was inhabited by the Dan tribe, one of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel. Today, it is home to about 3 million residents, almost half of Israel’s total population.

The Gush Dan t hrives with Israeli high tech, venture capital and scientific research firms, including ICQ, Hadas Detection and Decoding Systems, Tikcro Technologies, Clal Industries, and Radvision.

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange lists 660 companies and more than a thousand mutual funds, and the total market value of all TASE listed equity securities in 2007 was $161.4 billion, compared with $92.1 billion in 2004. Because of Israel’s small size, a large investment in even one Israeli company can boost everyone’s bottom line. When Warren Buffet paid $4 billion for a majority stake in the Israeli toolmaker Iscar, the stock prices of most Israeli companies jumped considerably the very next day.


LODGING

HILTON TEL AVIV

Guests and locals alike have been known to spend most of a hot day at this hotel’s large saltwater swimming pool or on the beach, a short walk from the pool deck. The hotel’s suites overlook the sea, and guests on the Club Level can use the stunning 16th floor lounge, where snacks and beverages are provided throughout the day. There are several popular dining venues, including the expensive, dinneronly, King Solomon Restaurant, and the Yakimono Sushi Bar. The hotel’s location at the northern end of Tel Aviv means easy access to corporate offices in the northern suburbs.$$$$
HILTON TEL AVIV
Independence Park
tel 972 3 520 2222
http://www.hilton.com

SHERATON CITY TOWER

This 37-floor, 167-room property, built in 2000, is located just two miles from the beach, in the suburb of Ramat Gan, site of Tel Aviv’s Diamond Exchange District. Business travelers appreciate its easy access to corporate offices, Tel Aviv University, the Ayalon Freeway, and City Gate, the tallest office/residential building in Israel, as well as the outdoor heated pool, large fitness center with sauna and whirlpool, and the upscale, kosher-style, French-Mediterranean Arugula Restaurant. The Sheraton has 24-hour room service, seven meeting rooms, and Club Lounge rooms with additional amenities.$$$$
SHERATON CITY TOWER
Diamond Exchange District
14 Zisman St.
Ramat Gan
tel 972 3 754 4444,
http://www.starwoodhotels.com

DAN PANORAMA

The 500-room Dan Panorama, one of 12 Dan hotels in Israel, is located at the southern end of the city, across the street from the beach, and near Jaffa, the historic Arab port, now filled with upscale Israeli restaurants, gift shops and art galleries. The hotel is adjacent to Tel Aviv’s Convention Center and guestrooms are equipped with all the expected business amenities. There’s a large outdoor pool off the second floor terrace, overlooking the Mediterranean. Like many deluxe properties in Israel, the hotel provides a large Israeli-style breakfast included in the room rate.$$$
DAN PANORAMA
Charles Clore Park
tel 972 3 519 0190
http://www.danhotels.com


DINING

MUL YAM

The name means “facing the sea” in Hebrew, and Mul Yam is considered by many food critics to be the top seafood restaurant in Israel. One taste of the red mullet on black pasta with olives, or grouper served on smoked eggplant puree, may convince you that the reviews are accurate. Black rice from China, Nova Scotia lobster and mussels from Brittany are menu favorites at this pricey non-Kosher restaurant. Reservations are necessary.$$$-$$$$
MUL YAM
Tel Aviv Port
tel 972 3 546 9920
http://www.mulyam.com

CORDELIA

Don’t let the kitschy décor of this large restaurant in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv, spoil your first impression. And don’t be concerned that Chef Nir Zook has diverted his attention from day-today kitchen operations since he gained celebrity status in Israel. Come to enjoy the food: mostly modern French with a Middle Eastern touch in the seasonings and ingredients, such as zucchini stuffed with minced lamb, lots of great prawn dishes, jasmine rice with coarse salt and sumac, steamed grape leaves, platters of goat cheese, and chocolate and cardamom ice cream in Courvoisier for dessert.$$$
CORDELIA
30 Yefet St.
Jaffa
tel 972 3 518 4668
http://www.cordelia.co.il

BOYA

Perhaps it is Boya’s location facing the Mediterranean — so close to the water that rough seas send spray over the rock wall and onto the outdoor terrace — that gives the restaurant its special ambience. This casual, morning-to-late-night restaurant has it all — good seafood (one of the specialties is sautéed shrimp in white wine), pasta, pizza, burgers, lamb kabobs, and a long bar with wonderful Israeli music. It is packed for Saturday breakfasts and, like all public places in Tel Aviv where everybody knows everybody, the gossip flows faster than the wine.$$
BOYA
Tel Aviv Port
tel 972 3 544 6766


INFO TO GO

Ben-Gurion International Airport (TLV) is slightly closer to Tel Aviv than to Jerusalem, and is connected to both cities by a four-lane divided highway. Taxis make the trip to Tel Aviv in 25 minutes, without rushhour traffic. Fares range from $25 to $30. A train runs about twice an hour into Tel Aviv ($6), but the station is outside the city center. It is important to note that the Jewish sabbath begins at sunset on Friday, and lasts until sunset on Saturday. During this period, public transport services are suspended and many businesses, shops, restaurants and museums throughout the country are closed. All banks, post offices, schools and government offices close from mid-day Friday to Sunday morning. In some cities, such as Jerusalem, the sabbath is strictly observed; Tel Aviv is known to be more liberal about sabbath closings, with some seaside restaurants and shops in tourist areas remaining open. For more information, visit the Israel Ministry of Tourism at http://www.goisrael.com.


Checking in with Yossi Berg
Choreographer/Dancer

Global Traveler:You have danced and choreographed for the Batsheva Dance Company and now you’re producing dance and theater for the Suzanne Dellal Center of Dance in Tel Aviv. What do you think of Tel Aviv as a city for culture and the arts?

Yossi Berg: Tel Aviv is a great city for culture. Many artists here are originally from other parts of Israel, and often their parents are from other countries, so the diverse cultural background they bring to their art is tremendous. All Israeli artists have a strong bond to the country, and their work is influenced by life here, which is always very intense. That intensity, which ranges from the highest feelings of enjoyment and fun, to sadness in times of Mideast conflict, is often brought out in the intensity of dance performances, or music or paintings.

GT: Where do local artists go to hear music, to have coffee or drinks, or just to hang out in Tel Aviv?

YB: There are lots of neighborhoods in the city, and lots of little bars and coffeehouses where you can spend time or watch new artists perform. Some bars, like Levontin 7, Shesek, Minzar and Tmoona are good places to hang out, have a drink and mix with young Israelis and visitors. The Florentine district has lots of cafes and bars; Neve Tzedek is an older neighborhood with wonderful narrow little streets, dance studios, cafés and a European-style atmosphere; Lilenblum has lots of nightlife and dance bars; and around Rothschild Street, the cafes are filled on Fridays, around noon, when everybody is getting together to talk, eat some lunch and plan for the weekend.


DIVERSIONS

Tel Aviv, for all its cosmopolitanism and business savvy, has not strayed far from its early roots as a seaside town. The Mediterranean coastline stretches from the city’s southern end, near Jaffa, to the northern suburbs of Ramat Aviv, Herzliya Pituah, and Natanya, so spending time on the beach is part of the lifestyle here. After a morning jog on the sand or a swim in the sea, have lunch at a seaside café, and then visit some of the attractions in the city, including the Bauhaus Center (99 Dizengoff St., tel 972 3 522 0249, http://www.bauhaus-center.com) with its exhibits on Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv and other cities in the world, or the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora (2 Klausner St., Tel Aviv University Campus, Ramat Aviv, tel 972 3 640 8000, http://www.bh.org.il) where the permanent exhibits include murals, films and models relating to Jewish communities outside Israel.

There are numerous venues in the city devoted to art, music, dance and theater, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (27 Shaul HaMelech Blvd., tel 972 3 607 7020, http://www.tamuseum.com) for its Israeli, American and European artwork; Cameri Theater (30 Leonardo da Vinci St., tel 972 3 606 0960) for dramatic performances; Tmoona Theater (8 Schontzino St., tel 972 3 562 9462, http://www.tmu-na.org.il) for fringe theater, dance and music performances; Suzanne Dellal Centre (5 Yechieli St., Neve Tzedek, tel 972 3 510 5656, http://www.suzannedellal.org.il) and Batsheva Dance Company (6 Yechieli St., tel 972 3 517 1471, http://www.batsheva.co.il) for dance; Hangar 11 (Tel Aviv Port, tel 972 3 602 0882) for music concerts; the New Opera House (19 Shaul HaMelech Blvd., tel 972 3 692 7777 http://www.israel-opera.co.il); and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (1 Huberman St., Mann Auditorium, tel 972 3 621 1766, http://www.ipo.co.il).

Trendy nightspots, include Mishmish (17 Lilenblum St., tel 972 3 516 8178), one of the best-known bars in Tel Aviv with jazz music, and a covered patio in the back, and Escobar (5 Shevach St., tel 972 3 639 1551), known for its celebrity clientele and crowded bar scene.

Be sure to get up early one morning to visit the outdoor Carmel Market (corner of Allenby and Sheinkin Streets), Tel Aviv’s largest fish, meat and produce market, and the Daniel Rowing Center (Yarkon River, North Tel Aviv, tel 972 3 699 0484, http://www.drc.org.il), one of Tel Aviv’s most beautifully designed buildings, for a quiet kayak ride along the Yarkon River.


Just the Facts

Time Zone: GMT + 2
Phone Code: 972 Israel, 3 Tel Aviv
Currency: Shekel
Entry/Exit Requirements: All visitors to Israel must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date they enter the country. Visitors intending to work in Israel must request a special visa from the Ministry of the Interior. Some foreign nationals also must obtain a tourist visa before entering the country. For more information, visit http://www.goisrael.com.
Official Language: Hebrew, but English is widely spoken
Key Industries: Aerospace, technology and communications, electronics, finance, agriculture, tourism, pharmaceuticals and healthcare

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