In contrast, the white light of the noonday sun is
intense, relentless, and inescapable. As a solar matter,
it is uniformly bright, often blinding.
But it too is inflected by desert light. Dust particles,
suspended in the air in Jerusalem’s bowl, scatter
incident noonday light forwards and backwards,
creating a diffuse light that is omnidirectional, uniform
and shadowless. This scattered and intense light fills
space around Jerusalem volumetrically, delivering a
photonic density composed of overlapping veils of
light. These confound the edges of things, making it
difficult to perceive form, discern colour and judge
depth. The dense brightness limits and contains the
view out and, so denied, turns the view in.
‘It is the white light that is so difficult,’ noted the
Jerusalem painter Mordechai Ardon, and his work
shows how the desert light combines with the midday
sun to overlay, blend and confuse the perception of
sun, sky, sand and stone.
So the diurnal experience of Jerusalem’s desert light,
like so many things in this ancient city, offers an
ambivalent message. In the morning it is golden,
soft, comforting and carries a clear sense of spatial
orientation and perspectival depth. By noon it is white,
intense and discomfiting, overpowering the eye with a
cloud of bright light whose veiled ambiguity hems in
the city and its occupants.
The Judean landscape to the south, west and north is
composed of sediments laid up by living organisms,
born of light, that, once deceased, rained down to
the ocean floor during the great Devonian flood. As
these fossilised limestone layers now climb hillsides,
the ‘primordial’ light sculpts them into steps, whose
perception is both fragmented and reinforced by
contrasting patterns of light treads and dark risers.
This same stepped light is built into the formal and
photonic articulation of Jerusalem itself. Just east of the
city walls lies the Kidron Valley. One slope is densely
covered with stepped rectangular limestone tombs for
the Jews while the other offers the same for Muslims.
An abstraction of the stepped form and light in the
landscape, now applied to a vast City of the Dead.
Within the city walls a similarly stepped light plays out.
But out of the flat roof/tread now spring micro-domes.
While they broadly reflect the blue of the sky, they
also record the passage of the sun with bright curved
scallops of light that float against the warm tones of
Jerusalem’s stepped building mass.
The Old City’s extramural visual relationship to
the sky is defined by the crenellations that top its
circumferential defensive wall. They play out an endless
visual base line composed of stone mass followed by
sky void. The result is a zig-then-zag zipper designed
haloed Byzantine image of Christ’s
head recall that you are witnessing
the sun rise in Jerusalem’