The Central bus station TLV, a place where I give art tours and also just hang out and explore, is probably one of the strangest places in the city. You won’t believe what’s going on in this weird place. Amongst the various shops, marginal hangouts and underground activity, this amazing and strange bus station became a hub for contemporary art. Artists studios, art theaters, performance school and even institutionalized street art are all to find in this special venue. 

The Central bus station’s story begins in 1963 with the initiative of construction contractor Arie Piltz. Piltz imagined a new modern building that will not only replace the exciting old bus station of TLV but will also be a huge mall. His vision was that 1 million people will pass in the station each day! That was outrageous since at that time Israel had only 3 million citizens living in it. But he managed to recruit not only the money but also Ram Karmi which was the most important Israeli architect at the time. Together they planned a modern labyrinth made to make people wonder in the six floors of the station/ shopping mall.

Pic: Alon Arshov

The construction began in 1967 but soon after it went through budgetary problems, making the owners sell 750 out of 1,500 stores built in the center. That brought up even more problems trying to make common decisions with all of them. Besides that citizens of the south TLV neighborhood started to protest against the enormous building being raised in their back yard. Construction stopped for six years and eventually it took almost 30 years for the bus station to be open for the public. It was a major disaster from day one. Nobody needed such a big shopping mall and so many buses. Many of the stores never opened and two of the six floors are deserted until this very day. 

Such a strange place this is, mysterious and leading to disorientation, hosting various little shops and oriental restaurants. But it’s also full of color and a great inspiration for the art growing amidst it. Such inspiration took the “Mystorin Theater group”, specializing in site specific performance. They created “Seven” – a show running in all the floors of the station (even the deserted ones). It is a non-verbal show inspired by the seven deadly sins as portrayed in Dante's poem The Divine Comedy. The audience is led by the actors as they dance and sing with the central bus station as their décor.

"Seven"- pic: Oz Madar

Today at the station you can also find about two dozens of artists studios and a main gallery for contemporary art. There is also a Yiddish museum and library in which shows and lectures take place. A school for performance art and a second, more traditional theater portraying even Shakespeare’s writings.  On the 7th floor (yes there are seven floors today… it’s a long story), you will find the biggest indoors exhibition of street art in Israel. It began in 2013 with about a hundred street artists that were invited to decorate the walls. But since then it grew and today the whole floor is filled with beautiful murals with different and exciting styles. 

Street art on the station's 7th floor- pic: Mati Ale

There is much more to say about the central bus station and the art within it, but it is better to go and explore for yourselves. Or join my tour  Each visit is mysterious and full of surprises.

- by Shani Werner