During his fourth visit to Palestine in February 1914, Baron Edmond de Rothschild expressed his wish to be buried, in due course, “among the rocks” of the Carmel range. In 1936, about two years after the Baron passed away, his son, James de Rothschild (1878-1957), initiated the execution of his father’s Will. Work on the crypt and gardens commenced in 1939 and progressed only sporadically until 1954 due to the Second World War. Architect Uriel Schiller designed the crypt, landscape architect Shlomo Oren (Weinberg) planned the gardens, and Israel and Rhoda Traub designed the statuary in the gardens.
The crypt is a monument to the role played by the Baron in the Shivat Zion national immigration movement (Return to Zion). The Memorial Gardens are laid out around the graves of Baron Benjamin Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) and his wife, Baroness Adelaide de Rothschild (1853-1935).
In the spring of 1954, when work on the gardens was concluded, the remains of the Baron and his wife were brought to Israel and interred in a state funeral among the rocks of this high plateau, in the heart of the region that was one of the centres of the Baron’s activities.
The Entrance Area is divided into five long strips representing the five Rothschild brothers, sons of the family patriarch, Amschel Rothschild. Baron Benjamin Edmond de Rothschild, known as “The Famous Benefactor”, was his grandson.Large Indian rosewoods line the entrance to the garden. Wide steps lead to a path that passes through an avenue of carob trees, with wide expanses of lawns on either side surrounded by ornamental shrubbery. Over the entrance gate is the Rothschild family’s crest: a bronze shield supported on either side by a lion and a unicorn, symbolizing strength, and a crown of apples above them. The shield is divided into four sections embossed with an eagle, a lion, and a clenched fist holding five arrows, representing Mayer Rothschild and his five sons. A smaller shield set in its centre is embossed with the conical hat that residents of the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt, including Mayer Amschel’s family, were required to wear. The small shield denotes occupation in commerce and all merchants were required to hang this emblem over their shops. A red shield (roten schild in German) hung on the facade of the Rothschild family home and eventually became the family name – Rothschild. Inscribed beneath the shield are the Latin words Concordia, Integritas, Industria (unity, integrity, diligence), which became the family’s guiding principles.
The Fragrance Garden is encircled by raised beds planted with fragrant plants and herbs along with plants that appeal to the sense of touch. A guide-rail fixed along the supporting wall is inset with explanatory labels in Braille, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic, and encourages visually-impaired visitors to enjoy an extensive tour of the garden. A circular pool with a fountain is situated in the centre of the garden. Scattered benches provide a place to sit and a wooden pergola covered in sweet-smelling Rangoon creepers provides shade and an intoxicating fragrance on hot summer days. The garden was laid out in 1985 at the suggestion of Mrs. James de Rothschild (Dorothy Pinto, 1895-1988, who founded the Rothschild Foundation).
It was designed to appeal both to the visually-impaired and to the general public and to stimulate the senses of smell, touch and hearing. The garden was designed by landscape architects from the Miller-Blum office.
The Amphitheater is encircled by shrubbery that screens it from the rest of the garden, creating a secluded entity. The small stage was once the venue for the Rothschild Prize awards before the ceremony was relocated to the Knesset building in Jerusalem. The Amphitheater now hosts summer twilight concerts that attract a loyal following of classical music lovers from throughout the region.
The Rose Garden is laid out in perfect symmetry. Situated between the rose-beds are five small, circular pools with fountains, and one larger pool and fountain north of them, representing the father and his five sons, founders of the House of Rothschild. A sundial sculpture encircled by a stone pergola at the northern edge of the garden depicts a seated woman embracing the sundial, a distant expression on her face, removed from time, as if time has stood still.
The Palm Garden
contains a small selection of the thousands of varieties of palm trees extant in the world. Lofty palms with tousled boughs and furled palm shoots growing close to the ground, alongside fountain-like splayed palms. The most familiar variety is the Washingtonia, which became the trademark of the Baron’s moshavot (settlements), since their main streets were lined with them.
The Cascade Garden opens a panoramic “window” to the west towards Wadi Hanadiv and the Mediterranean. A large stone relief map at the top of the garden indicates the locations of the Baron’s moshavot (settlements) and the land reclaimed by him and developed by PICA (Palestine Jewish Colonization Association). Dragon trees, unusual looking plants originating in the Canary Islands, border the two stone-paved and terraced paths on either side of the garden. A stream of water flows down from the base of the stone map in a stepped channel to a circular pool, symbolizing the flow of life and its end. A sculpture of a pair of hands on the edge of the pool out of which the water flows is an expression of the impossibility of clutching onto life.
The Crypt Enclosure is accessed through an iron gate adorned with grapevines. The Baron imported vines to Palestine and they provide an important source of income for the region’s inhabitants to this day. A narrow decorative goldfish pool and a colonnade of basalt pillars surround the rectangular courtyard.
The limestone paving, like all the building materials used in the gardens, originates in Israel. At the entrance to the crypt on the edge of the courtyard, stands a tall cypress shaped like a candle flame, reminiscent of a “memorial candle”. A fashioned cup is set into the wall, dripping water into an ornamental pool at its base.
The “cup of tears” represents the sorrow in the Yishuv (the Jewish population in Palestine) when the news of Baron de Rothschild’s death was heard. Heavy stone doors (reminiscent of crypt doors from the Second Temple period) lead to a dim tunnel winding down towards the tomb. Spherical lamps set into the ceiling, which due to a seam in the ceiling appear in the shape of a heart, provide illumination. Inside the burial chamber, in a recess pointing towards Jerusalem, is a plain heptagonal tomb of black polished basalt. The names of the Baron and the Baroness are engraved on the tombstone, as well as the Baron’s sobriquets: Avi Hayishuv (Father of the Yishuv) and Hanadiv Hayadua (The Famous Benefactor). Above the tomb is a round, white stone relief of a Star of David, brought to the site from the City of David excavations in Jerusalem and donated by the state. In front of the tomb is a basalt basin adorned with the figure of a woman, sculpted by the Traubs.