I guess you could say that I have a love-hate relationship with Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. Love: because it’s where I met my first true love. Hate: because it’s a colossal monstrosity that traps you inside when you arrive there from anywhere.
Now insiders will get to tour Tel Aviv’s bus station, and its secrets in an arts tour next Monday.
Would you know that deep down in the station there is an atomic bomb shelter and bat cave? Or that it boasts some pretty unique architecture? There’s a Chinatown inside there somewhere, as well as a community meeting point for refugees and foreign workers.
Once the world’s largest bus station, until a city in India took that title, Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station certainly evokes emotion in people who visit it.
The Tel Aviv Arts Council thinks so too.
Its labyrinthine passageways (in their words) are “complex, ugly, monstrous, dirty, mysterious.” Taking over 25 years to build, it was opened by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, and covers 230,000 square meters, over 44 dunams of terminals, theaters, shops, restaurants and, well, if you dare to enter –– so much more.
Only 45 percent of the building is occupied, and during the Art tour, visitors will be guided through the station’s untouristed urban maze. Tour guides will talk about its unique architecture; you’ll get to see the underground bat caves, and bomb shelter made to withstand an Iranian nuclear attack, and hear about plans for its future: with new art galleries, theaters and community projects.
Why would such a small country like Israel build such a concrete behemoth? What was the city thinking in 1967 when construction began? Who designed such insanity? All these questions and more will be answered next Monday night. We want to know – what ever happened to the plans for a new New Central Bus Station planned back in 2009?
RSVP here on Eventbrite for NIS 32 (about $10). Date: Monday, January 6th, 2014, 7pm-9pm. Note: event might already be sold out according to Facebook reports.
The event is put on by The Tel Aviv Arts Council as part of its mission to bring the best of Israeli creative culture to young patrons of the arts. Its monthly Art Tours series are to entertain and educate.
No doubt the Central Bus Station has a life of its own. Shady underworld figures mingle with foreign workers and hasty commuters who pass through the station on their way to anywhere else but there.
Not friendly at all for passengers coming and going (you can get trapped among falafel sellers and knock-off running shoe stores and bombarded with stereos blasting), it is less friendly to people who need basic services like a toilet. I remember being there four years ago on my way to Jerusalem, pregnant, and with no choice had to urinate on the flood inside one of the hallways. Because even though the buses were running, it was too early for the rest rooms to be opened. This might be a no sweat moment for a man, but for a woman quite humiliating.
When on the go in Israel I try to use the station as little as possible. But back to the beginning of this post – I met the man of my dreams at the Central Bus Station while on my way to Sinai more than 15 years ago. I didn’t make it to Sinai and ended up staying in Tel Aviv instead. While we didn’t stay in love, he did help me find a way to understand and live in the Middle East in my own way. You could call him my bus station angel.
Green Prophet writer Daniella has a great story on the bus station over yonder at The Tablet, if you really dig the idea of reading more about this mega monster and its history. Some developing nations could certainly learn from Israel’s mistakes on this one.