In today’s Makor Rishon (Hebrew) newspaper, Arnon Segal published an article, called Otiot porchot be-avir (letters blossom in the air). Based on the diary of the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Meir Yehuda Getz, he retells the story of the underground excavations and the struggle that took place inside Warren’s Gate in 1981. Warren’s Gate is the northern-most of the four original Herodian gateways that gave access to the Temple Mount through the Western Wall.
In April 1866, Captain Charles Wilson inspected this underground passageway which for several centuries had been used as a water reservoir. Three years later, Charles Warren examined the cistern (Cistern 30, see below) and noted that its western end pierced the Western Wall. It measures 25.6×5.50m and its floor is 10.50m below the level of the Temple Mount. This cistern was originally a Herodian underground passage, leading up from Warren’s Gate to the Temple Mount, possibly having an internal L-shaped stairway like at Barclay’s Gate. A relatively modern stairway descends from the west into the cistern. Wilson later named this gate after Warren.
This underground tunnel was accidentally rediscovered in 1981 during excavations that took place along the Western Wall north of Wilson’s Arch. During the construction of an underground synagogue, workers broke through the wall that had blocked up the gate opening.
Rabbi Getz believed that this gate was used in the past by priests going up to the Temple. He also believed that this passage led to the lost Temple treasures and to the Ark of the Covenant. After working in secret for about a month, Arabs found out from a media report that the Israelis were excavating below the Temple Mount. They descended into the cistern through two manholes from above and closed off the gate with a very thick concrete wall.
The dream of Getz to reach the Temple Treasures, especially the Ark of the Covenant, was dashed. According to his diary, he sat down with ashes on his forehead, praying: “O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy Temple.” (Psa. 79:1).
Despite the fact that this excavation was illegal, it nevertheless would have been exciting to find out more about how exactly this underground passage originally worked.
HT: Yisrael Medad