After reading about amazing discoveries in Jerusalem recently, a few friends and I decided to tour some of the excavation sites. We started at the top of the wide stone steps beneath the retaining wall of the Temple Mount, often referred to as the Southern Steps (1). (See numbered tour route map.) Looking southward, it isn’t hard to imagine this stairway bustling with biblical pilgrims making their way to the Temple courts or going in and out of the mikvaot (ritual baths) located at the base of the stairs. From this vantage point, we could see across the Ophel Road to the hills surrounding Jerusalem in the distance. To the east, lay the Kidron Valley that separates the Mount of Olives from the Old City, but directly before us, we could see the fabled City of David.
The City of David is where the ancient city of Jerusalem began—established on a narrow, pie-shaped ridge over 3,000 years ago. The ridge runs from the southern wall of the Old City down to the Pool of Shiloah (Siloam). Here in 1004 BC, King David captured the city from the Jebusites and established his own kingdom, unifying the 12 tribes of Israel.
Treasures from a Drainage Channel
From the Southern Steps, we passed through the Dung Gate (2) (the exit from the Western Wall) and crossed the Ophel Road, stopping to watch the activity at the Givati Excavation (3) located just outside the City of David National Park (4). It is the largest archeological dig in Jerusalem. Like every place in Israel, you never know what’s under your feet, and this dig used to be a parking lot! Beneath the pavement, the earth has given up some spectacular finds.
Energetic volunteers from the Hebrew University and elsewhere tossed endless pails of soil from one person to the next, removing tons of earth covering 3,000 years of Jerusalem civilization. Below the layers of the Byzantine and Roman periods lay the remnants of Herodian Jerusalem before its destruction in AD 70.
A residence uncovered there revealed that its cellar had hidden access to a large drainage channel running along the Tyropoeon Valley. The drainage channel tells a remarkable story of the Jewish people during the Second Temple Period. It was first uncovered in 2004 when city workers repairing a sewer drain broke through to a hidden staircase. This was an ancient thoroughfare which led from the Pool of Siloam, ascended the Tyropoeon Valley, up the western edge of the City of David to Robinson’s Arch and the Temple Mount.
Beneath this stepped Herodian roadway, archaeologists discovered the drainage channel filled with pottery and coins (see April 2011 Dispatch). Last year, a beautiful golden bell was unearthed from the mud, which possibly hung from the hem of a high priest’s robe (see October 2011 Dispatch).
Archaeologists surmise that a Roman sword in a leather scabbard, found surprisingly well-preserved, was used by Jewish rebels during the revolt of AD 66. Cooking pots, some still containing food, showed that the underground channel was a hide-out for Jews during the destruction of Jerusalem. The Romans discovered the hide-out, broke through the flagstones, and killed all 3,000 people hidden below. In October 2011, the channel was completely excavated, allowing visitors to walk its entire length from the Pool of Siloam to Robinson’s Arch.
King David’s Palace
We crossed the road from the Givati excavations and entered the City of David National Park. Ancient Jerusalem comes to life as discoveries are made here almost monthly. We viewed walls built by Nehemiah; fortifications surrounding the Gihon Spring, ancient Jerusalem’s water source; and the remains of King David’s palace.
In 2005, archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar discovered a massive 10th century BC structure behind a large stepped retaining wall that may have served as its foundation. It was of superb Phoenician-style construction, probably built by King Hiram of Tyre, (2 Sam. 5:9–11) and believed to be King David’s palace. Only a portion has been excavated to date, but it is monumental and fit for a king.
Walking in the Steps of Temple Pilgrims
From the top of David’s City, we descended the steep cobbled street (5) to the Pool of Siloam (6), but not the small one outside of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This one is the real one; it’s close by but is much bigger and no longer has any water in it. The impressive pool (approximately 50 x 60 meters or 164 x 197 feet) allowed thousands of ancient pilgrims to ritually wash, then ascend the Herodian road (40 meters or 131 feet wide at its southern point) to the Temple.
In the tunnel marking the entrance to the Herodian road (7), we sat on the stairway and breathed in the dust of 2,000 years. On these very paving stones, Jews today can walk in the steps of ancient Temple pilgrims. A young Jewish man recited a Hebrew blessing over us, and we left the darkness of the tunnel and went out into the Jerusalem sunlight with that blessing of the kohanim (priests) echoing in our hearts.
Source: By Kathy DeGagné, Graphic Designer
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