Tag Archives: Davidson Archaeological park

Four sites in Old City

Most archaeological sites in Israel are part of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority but in the Old City there are a few interesting sites that are run by the East Jerusalem Development Company:

  • Ramparts Walk
  • Roman Plaza
  • Zedekiah’s Cave
  • Davidson Archaeological Park

Together these 4 sites can be the skeleton for a tour of the Old City. Because these sites are under one authority there is a combination ticket that gives you entry to all 4 sites. The current price is 55NIS whereas it would cost 72NIS if you bought  them individually (a saving of 24%) and the ticket is valid for 3 days.

The walls around the Old City were built in 1540 by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman and it is possible to walk on the top of two sections of these walls: 1) from Jaffa Gate around the Christian and Muslim Quarters all the way to Lions Gate (though I would recommend descending at Damascus Gate) and 2) across from Jaffa Gate by the Tower of David Museum around the Armenian and Jewish quarters to Dung Gate.

It’s important when exploring the Old City to go up onto the walls or roofs to get an overview of the city, something you can’t do from the ground. Looking outside the walls lets you see the institutions that were built in the late 1800s by the various European powers as the Ottoman Empire became the sick man on the Bosphorus.

At Damascus Gate you descend back in time to 135CE to the Roman Emperor Hadrian who crushed the Bar Kochba Revolt, destroyed Jerusalem and exiled its Jewish inhabitants. Hadrian rebuilt the city as a Roman city that he called Aelia Capitolina, of which remnants of the city plan exist to this day. The base of the Roman wall and the leftmost arch of three Roman arches can be seen below Damascus Gate. From Damascus Gate going south is El Zeit Street which runs along the route of the Roman Cardo and  El Wad Street that follows the Tyropean valley, above the secondary Cardo. Remains of both Cardos as well as other remains from the time of Hadrian can be visited on your tour.

Not far from Damascus Gate is another site that is called Zedekiah’s Cave or Solomon’s Quarry. This cave was discovered by chance by Dr James Turner Barclay, a physician and missionary who lived in Jerusalem for some years and was interested in biblical scholarship. On a sunny Sunday during the winter of 1854 Dr. Barclay was out walking along the city walls with his son and his faithful dog as he ususally did every Sunday when suddenly the dog vanished as if the earth had swallowed him up. While searching for the dog near the bedrock at the base of the city wall they noticed a deep hole from which they could hear the sound of barking. Excitedly they went home, gathered lanterns, ropes, measuring instruments and other equipment and under cover of darkness returned to the hole – the opening to a man-made cavern that had been created by quarrying stone. This is the largest quarry in the Holy Land, the cave begins at the city’s northern wall and extends under the Muslim Quarter for 230 meters, reaching the Sisters of Zion convent. Barclay is the one who discovered the gate to the Temple Mount that bears his name today (that you can see in the Western wall in the Women’s section of the Kotel plaza).

Following the secondary Cardo to the south of the city will bring you to the Davidson Archaeological Park excavated by Benjamin Mazar and Meir Ben Dov from 1968 to 1978 and later in the mid 90s by Ronnie Reich. Perhaps the most impressive sight in Jerusalem is the main Second Temple street, littered with large Herodian stones that the Romans hurled off the top of the wall 15 meters above when they destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in 70CE. Where the stones under Robinson’s Arch have been cleared away, you can see that the large paving stones are broken and have buckled under the tremendous impact of the arch’s collapse.

In the visitor’s center is a movie of a Jewish pilgrim’s experience coming to the Temple in Jerusalem. The movie uses 3D modelling of the Temple complex based on the archaeological evidence.

Under the street is the main drainage channel for ancient Jerusalem that has been recently opened and that goes as far as the Siloam Pool. Walking through the park you come to the southern steps that lead up to the double and triple gates. Below the steps is Eilat Mazar’s recent excavation of part of a citadel, a 4 chamber entrance gate whose dimensions are almost identical to the palace gate in Megiddo and a building of “royal character” dated to the 9th century BCE.

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Tisha b’Av

Yesterday evening marked Tisha b’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple built by King Solomon and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians razed Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from their land. But Babylon fell to the Persians shortly thereafter and Cyrus, the Persian king gave permission to the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple. So a remnant of the Jewish people came back to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile 50 years later and built the Second Temple, a much more modest structure. A young person living in Jerusalem could have seen the splendor of the First Temple, lived through the Babylonian exile and seen the Second Temple.

Almost 500 years later, King Herod built four stone supporting walls around the Temple Mount and filled the area with earth and a series of arches to expand the quadrilateral platform (about 250 meters on each side); the longest supporting wall is 488 meters long. Herod rebuilt the temple, a magnificent structure, decorated with gold and marble that stood 50 meters high. Even the Rabbis who were not great fans of Herod record that “whoever has not seen Herod’s Temple has not seen a beautiful building in his life” (Baba Batra 4a). Herod built a main street with a drainage channel underneath that runs along the length of the western wall and at the southern end a staircase that begins parallel to the street and crosses over the street (like a highway interchange) that led to the Royal basilica; today the remains of the vault that supported the staircase is known as Robinson’s Arch. The same street continues south all the way to the Siloam Pool. The Romans destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem on the 9th of Av in 70CE.

The supporting walls of the Temple Mount are standing to this day and you can walk on the 2000 year old Herodian street and see the large ashlar stones with their signature frames in a pile from when the Romans pushed them off the top of the wall. I sat on the paving stones of the street yesterday evening to read Eicha (the book of Lamentations) and remember the destruction and our return.

Yesterday the Israel Antiquities Authority announced two new finds in a press release.

During the course of work the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out in Jerusalem’s ancient drainage channel, which begins in the Siloam Pool and runs from the City of David to the archaeological garden (near the Western Wall), impressive finds were recently discovered that breathe new life into the story of the destruction of the Second Temple. …

A 2,000 year old iron sword, still in its leather scabbard, was discovered in work the Israel Antiquities Authority is doing in the channel, which served as a hiding refuge for the residents of Jerusalem from the Romans at the time of the Second Temple’s destruction. In addition, parts of the belt that carried the sword were found.

Roman sword made of iron used by soldier stationed in Jerusalem in 66CE. Photo by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to the excavation directors Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, “It seems that the sword belonged to an infantryman of the Roman garrison stationed in Israel at the outbreak of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66 CE. The sword’s fine state of preservation is surprising: not only its length (c. 60 cm), but also the preservation of the leather scabbard (a material that generally disintegrates quickly over time) and some of its decoration”.

A stone object adorned with a rare engraving of a menorah was found in the soil beneath the street, on the side of the drainage channel.

Stone inscribed with five-branched menorah. Photo by Vladirim Naykhin.

According to Shukron and Professor Reich, “Interestingly, even though we are dealing with a depiction of the seven-branched candelabrum, only five branches appear here. The portrayal of the menorah’s base is extremely important because it clarifies what the base of the original menorah looked like, which was apparently tripod shaped”. The fact that the stone object was found at the closest proximity to the Temple Mount to date is also important. The researchers suppose a passerby who saw the menorah with his own eyes and was amazed by its beauty incised his impressions on a stone and afterwards tossed his scrawling to the side of the road, without imagining that his creation would be found 2,000 years later.