Underground Jerusalem

This report by Matti Friedman of the Associated Press, has been widely published today:

JERUSALEM – Underneath the crowded alleys and holy sites of old Jerusalem, hundreds of people are snaking at any given moment through tunnels, vaulted medieval chambers and Roman sewers in a rapidly expanding subterranean city invisible from the streets above.

At street level, the walled Old City is an energetic and fractious enclave with a physical landscape that is predominantly Islamic and a population that is mainly Arab.

Underground Jerusalem is different: Here the noise recedes, the fierce Middle Eastern sun disappears, and light comes from fluorescent bulbs. There is a smell of earth and mildew, and the geography recalls a Jewish city that existed 2,000 years ago.

Archaeological digs under the disputed Old City are a matter of immense sensitivity. For Israel, the tunnels are proof of the depth of Jewish roots here, and this has made the tunnels one of Jerusalem’s main tourist draws: The number of visitors, mostly Jews and Christians, has risen dramatically in recent years to more than a million visitors in 2010.

But many Palestinians, who reject Israel’s sovereignty in the city, see them as a threat to their own claims to Jerusalem. And some critics say they put an exaggerated focus on Jewish history.

A new underground link is opening within two months, and when it does, there will be more than a mile (two kilometers) of pathways beneath the city. Officials say at least one other major project is in the works. Soon, anyone so inclined will be able to spend much of their time in Jerusalem without seeing the sky.

The full length of the underground Herodian drainage channel that led below the Tyropoeon Street will be opened this summer. Photo: © Nathaniel Ritmeyer

The article reports on the Western Wall Tunnel:

The Western Wall tunnel that runs along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount has been open for several years. Photo: © Leen Ritmeyer

Other tunnels are mentioned also, such as Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Canaanite Tunnel and Zedekiah’s Cave, also known as Solomon’s Quarries near the Damascus Gate.

The Canaanite Tunnel, also known as Channel II, near the Gihon Spring. Photo: © Nathaniel Ritmeyer

The next major project, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority, will follow the course of one of the city’s main Roman-era streets underneath the prayer plaza at the Western Wall. This route, scheduled for completion in three years, will link up with the Western Wall tunnel.

Although most of these tunnels and underground areas have been known for a long time, it is interesting to see that they have become a new underground tourist attraction.

The report then continues to describe the political impact that these underground excavations and tunnels have on the local population. You can read the whole report here.

HT: Joe Lauer


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