Jerusalem: A City Which Turns to Gold

Jerusalem is considered a sacred city by members of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Its history is rich, filled with ancient artifacts from all eras and cultures. Jerusalem is the epicenter of multiculturalism. However, it has also been the sight of destruction for thousands of years, a nucleus for conflict, war and antagonism.

This panorama of Jerusalem at twilight captures none of the above. We lovingly refer to Jerusalem the “City of Gold” because the golden light reproduced in this painting is the city’s true essence. This painting, created by Ludwig Blum in the mid-twentieth century, depicts a view of Jerusalem at dusk, when the sky is aglow with lilac, periwinkle and rose. The viewer in this work of art stands on the east side of Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, looking west toward the Old City. This painting creates a sense of immediacy, of capturing a fleeting moment in time. The work’s asymmetrical balance contributes to this notion, along with the loose brushstrokes which portray movement and flickering light as the eye moves over the canvas. This painting transports us to a place of tranquil serenity, where the entire city’s limestone walls gleam, tinged with a delicate gold. This remarkable painting offers more than a visual scene of the Old City. Rather, the viewer is treated to a full sensory experience: a light wind rolls over the hills, Jerusalem bells ring, the prayer calls of the muezzin echo, the delicate smells of pine and baking bread pervade the air.

This painting depicts none of the conflict, the tears and the terror that have surrounded and filled Jerusalem for thousands of years. There is no focal point to this painting; it is not the grandeur of the Dome of the Rock, the holiness of the Temple Mount. There are no people present but a lone Arab villager who is minuscule against the grand sky. All these details and reminders of troubles past are abandoned for the sake of rendering Jerusalem’s splendor when the sun sets and its rays emit a light that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

“Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light”[i] the famous song so accurately describes. Naomi Shemer wrote these words in 1967, only weeks before the Six Day War when Jews could not approach the Western Wall. The song quickly became a confidence-boosting call for the soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces and when the Western Wall came under Israeli control after Israel’s victory, the soldiers cried out the words to “Jerusalem of Gold” in a passionate and heart-rending moment of triumph.[ii] At that magical moment, the words they sang must have reflected exactly what they witnessed, spurring them to sing with fervor: a city turned to gold at twilight whose beauty and sanctity are beyond comparison.

This painting captures that majestic moment in time where the light percolates through the stone walls of Jerusalem, turning the entire city gold. We must embrace the deep-seeded feeling of bittersweet nostalgia that this painting generates. The pasuk in Tehillim warns us against forgetting Jerusalem, “If I forget thee, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning.”[iii] Yet Jerusalem coated in gold at twilight is forever and absolutely unforgettable.

Shani is junior at SCW majoring in Art History

[i] Naomi Shemer, Yerushalayim shel Zahav, 1967

[ii] Yael Levine, “Jerusalem of Gold: The Career of a Song,” available at www.

[iii] Psalm 137:5, Judaica Press translation.