Israel Reveals Second Temple Structure Discovered under Temple Mount

May 22, 2020

by: Israel Antiquities Authority

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Dr. Barak Monnickendam-Givon standing at the subterranean system underneath the Western Wall.

Friday, 22 May 2020 | In honor of Jerusalem Day, the Israel Antiquities Authority [IAA] and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation have revealed new and impressive archaeological discoveries uncovered under the lobby of the Western Wall tunnels.  According to the archaeologists: “This is the first time such a system has been uncovered near the Western Wall.”

Archaeologists have begun to ponder a new mystery near the Western Wall: Why did people invest such huge efforts and resources in hewing such an impressive subterranean system 2,000 years ago, while life was going on in the homes above-ground?

This system, the first of its kind uncovered in the area of the Western Wall plaza and tunnels, was exposed in excavations conducted by the IAA in the “Beit Straus” complex, beneath the entrance lobby to the Western Wall tunnels. The excavations at the site—renewed about a year ago—are being conducted as part of the work to prepare for a new and fascinating tour in addition to the classic Western Wall tunnels tour run by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Researchers suppose that the complex was used by Jerusalem residents during the Early Roman period, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. The system was sealed beneath the floor of a large and impressive structure from the Byzantine period, waiting for some 2,000 years to be discovered.

The discovery was made by students of a pre-military preparatory program in Jerusalem. The students have been integrated in archaeological digs as part of the IAA’s educational policy, wishing to connect youth with their past. The system they discovered is composed of an open courtyard and two rooms arranged in three levels one above the other and connected by hewn staircases.

Dr. Barak Monnickendam-Givon and Tehila Sadiel, directors of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, said: “This is a unique finding. This is the first time a subterranean system has been uncovered adjacent to the Western Wall. You must understand that 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, like today, it was customary to build out of stone. The question is, why were such efforts and resources invested in hewing rooms underground in the hard bedrock?”

According to Dr. Monnickendam-Givon and Sadiel: “The rich array of findings discovered in this excavation shed light on the daily life of the residents of the ancient city. Among other things, we found clay cooking vessels, cores of oil lamps used for light, a stone mug unique to Second Temple Period Jewish sites and a fragment of a qalal—a large stone basin used to hold water, thought to be linked to Jewish practices of ritual purity.”

Mordechai (Suli) Eliav, director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in response to the findings uncovered: “I am excited, on the eve of Jerusalem Day, to reveal to the Jewish nation a new treasure trove of impressive and fascinating findings that shed light on life in Jerusalem throughout the generations in general, and on the eve of the destruction in particular. This finding epitomizes the deep connection of Jews with Jerusalem, their capital. Even when there were physical limitations, prayer at the foot of the remnant of our Temple never ceased, and this is tangible evidence of this.”

At the entrance to the rock-cut complex, depressions were found that were meant to firmly fix door hinges and bolts. Round and square niches were carved into the walls along with small triangular niches for oil lamps, as well as elongated carving for shelves.  These findings allude to the rock-cut system being for daily use. “Perhaps it served as a pantry for an overhead structure that didn’t survive, or as a hewn space that allowed for subterranean living”.

The Beit Straus complex is named for the philanthropist Nathan Straus who purchased the structure near the Western Wall at the beginning of the 20th century and turned it into a soup kitchen that fed the poor of the city.

Posted on May 22, 2020

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published in Israel Antiquities Authority on May 20, 2020. Time related language has been modified to reflect our republication today.)

Photo Credit: Yaniv Berman/Israel Antiquities Authorities