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Opening and inauguration of the Visitors Centre at Tell Balata (historical Shekhem) on June 24, 2013

The opening and inauguration of the Visitors Centre, and the visitors trail on the site, are an important result of the Tell Balata Archaeological Park project that is jointly being implemented by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, the Faculty of Archaeology of the University of Leiden, and UNESCO, Ramallah Office. The three-years project is financed by the Government of the Netherlands and is in its final stages.

The opening ceremony was preceded by some short speeches (in follow order) by the implementing directors of the Tell Balata Archaeological Park project (Hamdan Taha and Gerrit van der Kooij), the Mayor of Nablus, of which Balata is part (Ghassan Shakaa), the Representative of the Netherlands at the Palestinian Authority (Mrs Birgitta Tazelaar), the Head of the Ramallah Office of UNESCO (Derek Elias) and the Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities (Mrs Rula Maayia).  There was also a performance by a local folk dance group. All this took place under the presence of some 200 invitees, among them those from Balata village, as well as of the writing and filming press.

The actual opening was done by Mrs Tazelaar and the Minister, who received flowers for this. Subsequently the three main rooms of the Centre were visited, those for information, museum exhibitions and presentations (the Interpretation Hall). In the museum an exhibition was prepared with all sorts of artefacts from previous excavations at or nearby Tell Balata, and with those from the excavations that took place within the project. A slide show was given in the Interpretation Hall, including many historic pictures of German and American excavations and of village situations. Prints of several of these pictures, dating from 1926 till 1973, were attached to the walls of the rooms. Finally a site visit, following the trail, was organised.

Leaflets about the site were distributed and very limitedly also the bilingual booklet “Stories about Tell Balata” (local oral history collected by the project) and an intermediate informal version of a site guide produced for this occasion.

Design and function of the Visitors Centre, as well as the project as a whole, are locally considered an example for other sites. For the University of Leiden and the Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage and its Ministry, the project and this part of its end results form a remarkable realization of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Faculty of Archaeology of the University of Leiden, that was signed in Ramallah in 2009.

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