More on renovations planned for Jerusalem’s Old City

In connection to my previous post, I was interested to see that The Jerusalem Post also reported on the planned underground tunnel and parking lot in the Old City. I’m sure that Jerusalem archaeologists will be pleased with the prospect of excavating this area of the Jewish Quarter.

The architect Sherki admitted that it:

would be impossible not to lose some archeology in the course of construction, and said it took many years for the Israel Antiquities Authority to agree with the plan because of the potential archeological losses. But he believes that because they have a good idea of what exists underneath, the construction will minimize the destruction of archeological ruins.

At its deepest point, if no significant archeological discoveries are made, the parking garage will reach a depth of about nine meters, allowing for four levels of parking. But with as little as five meters, a depth Sherki is certain they can reach without disturbing any ruins, they can have a double-tiered parking garage.

Sherki may be disappointed, as from my experience of working on the Jewish Quarter excavations, I know that the Byzantine remains are only 3-4 m deep. They have been excavated by the team of the late Prof. Nahman Avigad and the results have been documented and published.

I could not help but be intrigued at the thought of what could be found, should the excavations go ahead. Depending how large an area will be opened, more of the entrance and narthex of the Byzantine Nea Church may be found and perhaps some of the internal architecture.

Remains of the Cardo Maximus may also be found. A large stretch of this street was already excavated during the 1980’s and I was privileged to supervise its reconstruction. The southern continuation, however, runs through the western part of the parking lot area.

Reconstructing the Byzantine Cardo. © Leen Ritmeyer

Procopius (500 – 565 AD), a prominent scholar who lived in Caesarea, wrote a detailed description of the Nea Church. According to his description, “as one advances there are two semi-circles (hemikykla) which stand facing each other on one side of the road that leads to the church”.
The street must be the Cardo Maximus and the two semi-circular colonnades stood between the Cardo and the Nea. Procopius does not supply us with any further information but I have suggested a possible arrangement on the accompanying plan. This differs from the plan of other Byzantine churches, which usually have a rectangular or square atrium in front of them. St. Peter’s Church in Rome (although dating from a much later period) also has two semi-circular colonnades in front of it.
In Jerusalem there is no space for anything as grand as in Rome, but nevertheless I hope that some light may be shed on Procopius’ description of the Nea Church, in particular on these semi-circular structures. The Byzantine historian did write that Justinian’s Nea Church was “a shrine with which no other can be compared.”

HT: Joe Lauer

2 thoughts on “More on renovations planned for Jerusalem’s Old City”

  1. I know it’s hard to make a living city out of a archaeological Disneyland, but I’d hate to see any remains of the Nea church further damaged or buried. It seems that there is no concern for any of Byzantine Jerusalem, nor for this great church. Even what little remains have been preserved are functionally inaccessible. I know a “Christian” Jerusalem doesn’t fit most desired narratives for the area, but it would be nice to have some of this great church exposed and made available to the public.

  2. The space where the north apsis was discovered was initially opened to the public and some of my charts were on display there. The area is closed now because hardly any tourist ever visited and tour guides didn’t find it interesting enough to bring their groups there. I believe that it is still possible to visit if you ask for the key from the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, which has its offices in the Rothschild building nearby. The south apsis can easily be seen next to the road that goes down from the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall area. We put two lines of stones in the road to show where the east wall of the Nea Church was located. The outer southeast corner of the church is also visible and accessible outside the Turkish city wall. The great vaults of the Cistern of the Nea are also closed because of the dangerous access to them. All these remains have been preserved and are not damaged, as far as I know, but I agree with you that access is difficult.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *