“her gates have sunk into the ground.” (Lamentations 2:9)
The Middle Gate is mentioned in Jeremiah 39.3 as the place where the Babylonian princes came together to celebrate their conquest of Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem was dramatically exposed in the excavations in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem that were directed by the late Prof. Nahman Avigad. After digging down for some 10 m., a large L-shaped fortified wall of the Israelite period was found.
This gate was called the Middle Gate as it was built in the middle of the northern wall of Jerusalem of that time. It is amazing to think that the Babylonian princes, who sat in the Middle Gate, Nergal-Sharezer, Samgar-Nebo, Sar-Sechim, Rab-Saris, Nergal-Sharezer and Rab-Mag, all came from what is now known as Iraq.
Jeremiah witnessed and lamented the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. “O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night; give yourself no relief; give your eyes no rest” (Lamentations 2:18).
In Lamentations 2:9, we read that “her gates have sunk into the ground.” As all large buildings in Jerusalem, including the gates, were built on the bedrock, these gates could not have sunk deeper into the bedrock on which they were built.
However, there is a logical explanation for this description. The Today’s English Version (formerly the Good News Bible) paraphrases this verse as, “the gates are buried in rubble”. After the destruction, rubble and destruction debris would have accumulated around the destroyed gate and raised the ground level around it, so that the preserved top would have been barely visible. This would have given the impression that the gates had sunk into the ground.
It is exciting to find the remains of buildings that are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but also sad to reflect on the terrible destruction that took place some two and a half thousand years ago.
The New Testament (Acts 3.2,10) records a notable miracle that was performed at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. This was the gate where a man who had been lame from birth was begging. When Peter and John saw him, they told him that they did not possess any gold or silver or worldly riches. Instead, they healed him in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He then “went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God” (Acts 3.8). What a joyful occasion that must have been and one that was witnessed by many people. Jesus had healed blind and lame people before (Matthew 21.14), but now his disciples could perform similar miracles.
The time at which the miracle was performed was very significant. It was the ninth hour – the hour of prayer during which the evening sacrifice was offered in the Temple (Exodus 29.41).
David had composed a special psalm for this hour (Psalm 141.2). Jesus died on the cross at that very same hour (Matthew 27:46). Elijah’s sacrifice was also offered at the time of the evening sacrifice (1 Kings 18.29). At this time also, the angel Gabriel was sent to Daniel to answer his prayer (Daniel 9.21). The angel that came to Cornelius came at this time (Acts 10.3). God answers faithful prayers, but there appears to be a special time at which certain prayers are answered.
The miracle took place at the Beautiful Gate, but the question is, which gate is the Scripture referring to and how can it be identified? There were at least seven gates in the outer walls of Herod’s Temple Mount, but only in one of these gates have decorations been found.
In a previous post we wrote that some scholars have proposed that the Nicanor Gate or the Shushan Gate were the best candidates for the Beautiful Gate. However, we have argued that neither of these gates would have been suitable places for a lame man to beg.
A more likely location would have been the Double Gate in the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, which I have described in my book The Quest, Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, 67-74.
The ceiling inside the double passageway has beautifully carved domes, which have survived up to today. In 1973, I received permission from the Muslim authorities to survey these domes. At the time, scaffolding was erected beneath the southwest dome, so that we could touch and measure it. That was an unforgettable experience. The domes were photographed under my direction, and I planned and set up the drawings, which were completed in pencil by Nili Cohen and in ink by my late sister Martha.
Most of the worshipers went up to the Temple Courts through this gate, which was certainly worthy of the appellation “beautiful”. It also allowed for effective begging practices, as suggested on p. 74 of the above-mentioned book. According to Mishnah Middot 2.2, “whosoever it was that entered the Temple Mount came in on the right and went round and came out on the left, save any whom aught befell, for he went round to the left.”
Two of the west domes are beautifully decorated with carved floral and geometric designs interwoven in intricate patterns.
We had suggested (The Quest, p.74) that these two eastern domes may have fallen during the original construction or because of an earthquake. They were rebuilt during the same Herodian period but were left undecorated.
Nevertheless, it was indeed a gate with beautifully decorated domes that have survived the Roman destruction and are still there until this day. We suggest then that Peter and John healed the lame man at the Double Gate and from there he went “walking and jumping” to the Temple as far as Solomon’s Porch.
After Jesus moved to Capernaum, he made it a base for his preaching activities. The Gospels tell us that “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues” (Matthew 4:23). He would go into the synagogues on sabbath days, as it was here that the people came together to worship. Although the Gospels don’t mention any particular synagogue where Jesus may have preached, archaeology has revealed the remains of a few Galilean synagogues that existed in the first century, namely in Capernaum, Magdala and Gamla. These synagogues were built of local basalt stones and this is reflected in our reconstruction drawings. A synagogue in Nazareth is mentioned in the Gospels, but no remains have been discovered so far. We have posted before on the Synagogue at Capernaum.
All three synagogues had a large meeting room with benches built around the walls. Some synagogues, such as that in Gamla, had a ritual bath, (called a mikveh in Hebrew), for ritual bathing nearby. This synagogue had a study hall attached to the building, as did the one discovered in Magdala.
The Gospels tell us that the Law of Moses was read every sabbath in the synagogue: ” For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). The public preaching in the synagogue was usually done from a chair called “Moses’ Seat”, as mentioned in Matthew 23:2. When Jesus spoke in the synagogue of Nazareth, after having read from the prophet Isaiah, he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.” Two such “Moses’ Seats” have been excavated, one in Chorazin and the oher in Hammath-Tiberias. These two latter synagogues were from the later Byzantine period, but it is possible that similar seats were used in the first century too.
In 2009, a first century synagogue was uncovered in Magdala during a salvage dig in preparation for the building of a new hotel in the Franciscan Church compound. The synagogue features a large reading room and a smaller study room in front of it. The entrance was from the west. A large stone in the study room was found to have two grooves near the sides and may have been used to place a scroll for reading or copying.
The synagogue room has a raised corridor with a bench running along the wall. A central rosette with flanking meander patterns made of mosaic decorated the floor. The walls were decorated with fresco patterns in dark red panels inside a mustard-coloured frame. The roof was supported by six columns that had red coloured fresco still clinging to some of them. Near the centre of the room, a rectangular stone with four feet was discovered. This stone, that apparently served as a support for a reading platform or lectern, was decorated with a relief of a seven-branched menorah, flanked on either side by amphorae and columns. These decorations are reminiscent of the Jerusalem Temple.
Magdala is the city where Mary Magdalene came from. It was a large city and recently another synagogue was discovered there. It is not recorded that Jesus preached in a synagogue at Magdala. However, as he usually went to synagogues to preach, it is highly likely that he did and would have met many people there, including Pharisees. One of those Pharisees had invited Jesus to his home to have a meal with him (Luke 7:36). That is where Mary Magdalene approached Jesus and was healed by him. She became an ardent follower of Jesus, was present at the crucifixion and was the first woman to whom Jesus appeared to after his resurrection.
The four centuries between the Old Testament (Tanakh) and the Gospels are sometimes called the “Silent Years”. This time period is also known as the intertestamental or deuterocanonical period. Yet there are historical sources and archaeological evidence that can take away the veil of silence. The Works of Josephus, the Books of Maccabees and Ecclesiasticus, also called the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, and others, contain important information about this enigmatic time. Beginning with the conquests of Alexander the Great, the new culture of Hellenism changed the way people were thinking and acting. These changes can be detected in archaeology, ancient architecture, politics, culture and religion. During this time, three empires, Persia, Greece and Rome successively ruled the then-known world. In this brief outline, we hope to cast some light on this fascinating period in the history of the Jewish people, and especially on Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
After the death of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, his empire was split among four generals, known as the diadochi. Alexander and his successors imposed the Hellenistic culture on their new subjects. The Hellenistic period in Judea lasted from 332-152 BCE, and that was followed by the Hasmonean kingdom which terminated when Herod the Great became king in 37 BCE. During this period, Judea was first under Ptolemaic rule from 301-200 BCE. The Ptolemies were benevolent toward the Jews. Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who ruled from 285-246 BCE, commissioned a translation of the Hebrew Bible in c. 250 BCE. Seventy-two scholars from Jerusalem translated the Torah, the five books of Moses, into Greek.
During the 3rd century BCE, many battles took place between the Ptolemies in the south and the Seleucids in the north. In 200 BCE, a final battle between the two forces took place in Panion (modern Banias) which was lost by the Ptolemies. The Seleucids then controlled the Holy Land.
The Temple that was built by Jeshua and Zerubbabel three centuries earlier undoubtedly needed structural maintenance and repairs.
In 200 BCE, restoration work was indeed carried out on the Temple Mount. In the deuterocanonical book of the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus, the work is described as follows:
“It was the High Priest Simon son of Onias who repaired the Temple during his lifetime and in his day fortified the sanctuary. He laid the foundations of the double height, the high buttresses of the Temple precincts. In his day the water cistern was excavated, a reservoir as huge as the sea.” (50.1-3).
It is clear from this text that the bulk of these works were concerned with the repair and strengthening of existing structures, as no archaeological remains can be demonstrated as belonging to this enterprise. The cistern that was excavated was probably initially quarried to supply stones for the repair work, and was afterwards used as a water cistern.
Whereas the Ptolemies were benevolent rulers, the Seleucids were the very opposite. The most infamous of the Seleucid rulers, Antiochus Epiphanes went to Jerusalem in 169 BCE, where he plundered the Temple, sacrificed a pig on the Temple altar, and and took all the Temple furniture and treasures away to Antioch. He was determined to Hellenize all the Jews in Judea, forbidding worship on the Temple Mount and the practice of rituals, such as sacrifice and circumcision and compelled them, on penalty of death, to sacrifice to pagan gods. This sparked off the revolt led initially by Mattathias, and then by his five sons, Eleazar, Simon, Judah, John and Jonathan, known as the Maccabees, and which lasted from 167 to 160 BCE.
In 168 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes built the Akra, a fortress for his Macedonian garrison, from which the Jewish population could be controlled. Hellenized Jews also joined this garrison. Josephus records that it commanded or overlooked the Temple. Josephus writes in Antiquities 12.252 that Antiochus …
built the Akra in the Lower City; for it was high enough to overlook the Temple, and it was for this reason that he fortified it with high walls and towers, and stationed a Macedonian garrison therein. Nonetheless there remained in the Akra those of the (Jewish) people who were impious and of bad character, and at their hands the citizens were destined to suffer many terrible things.
This description agrees with that given by the author of the Books of Maccabees, who, when referring to the event mentioned above, puts the Akra in the Lower City, which he calls the City of David:
They fortified the City of David with a great and strong wall, with strong towers, and it became unto them an Akra. There they installed an army of sinful men, renegades, who fortified themselves inside it, storing arms and provisions, and depositing there the loot they had collected from Jerusalem; they were to prove a great trouble. It became an ambush for the sanctuary, an evil adversary for Israel at all times. (1 Maccabees 1.33–36)
Archaeological remains of the fortifications have been found:
When in 168 BCE, an imperial emissary came to Modiin demanding that the people sacrificed on a pagan altar, Mattathias the priest refused to obey. When one of his countrymen came forward to sacrifice, Mattathias killed him and the emissary. This was the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt (1 Maccabees 2:23-25). Mattathias, his sons and many villagers left Modiin immediately and set up camp in the Gophna Hills, from where they fought many battles against the Seleucid army.
In 164 BCE, Judas, the eldest son of Mattathias, defeated the Seleucid forces at the battle of Beth-zur, and when he and his men went up to Jerusalem to purify and dedicate the sanctuary, they found the Temple in a shocking state of neglect and its buildings in ruins. After they had purified the Temple and a new altar was built, there was great rejoicing. It was then decided to make a law that the keeping of this Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) would be kept every year for eight days (1 Maccabees 4:36-61; 2 Maccabees 10:1-8). This Dedication of the Temple is still celebrated today by the Jewish people during the feast of Hanukkah, and, as three New Testament references (John 10:23, Acts 3:11, 5:12) show, was also observed by Jesus and his disciples.
In 142 BCE, Simon the Maccabee demolished the hated Akra, the fortress that the Seleucids had built to the south of the Temple Mount. He then leveled the mountain on which it was built, incorporating the whole area into the Temple Mount complex. The bloodline of the Maccabees evolved into the Hasmonean dynasty that established an independent Jewish state lasting till 37 BCE, when Herod the Great became king of Judea.
So, when Jesus walked here and taught the people, it would have reminded them of a unique point unparalleled in their history, when they celebrated God’s intervention in the restoration of their place of worship. And when the name of Solomon’s Porch was used for the eastern stoa, it represented a powerful connection with the dedication of both Solomon’s and the Hasmonean Temple, allowing the silent years to speak.
“Pilgrims can walk the new 18-km. (11-mile) Emmaus Trail that now goes from the Saxum Visitor Center in Abu Ghosh, which hat exhibits on Christianity, and ends at the monastery of Emmaus Nicopolis.”
The important event that took place on the Road to Emmaus is reported fully only in Luke 24.13-35. These verses record Jesus appearing to two of his disciples while they were going to a place called Emmaus. One was called Cleopas and the other is unnamed.
The fact that on their return to Jerusalem, the two disciples told the eleven (or ‘the rest’ as they are called in Mark 16.13) that “he was known of them in breaking of bread”, shows what a significant occasion it was. It was the first time after the Last Supper that Jesus broke bread again.
From their conversation we learn that those two disciples did not understand why Jesus had to die. We read that “they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned …” (Luke 24.14,15). They were quite perplexed and when Jesus joined them, he asked them what they were talking about. Cleopas told him what had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. These two disciples knew the sequence of the events very well, but they did not believe them and had walked away from Jerusalem. After Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, “their heart burned within them”.
Is it important to understand why the first breaking of bread in which Jesus participated after he was raised from the dead, had to take place near a village called Emmaus? And where was Emmaus? Why is that important to know? One thing that I have learnt from following the journeys of Jesus is that he always went to places for a reason, usually to fulfil an Old Testament prophecy.
We are told that Emmaus was about 60 stadia (Luke 24.13) from Jerusalem, that is over 4 times as far as Bethany, which was 15 stadia (2.775 km, 1.72 miles) from Jerusalem (John 11.18). As I have lived for two years in Bethany, I know this measurement to be true, as it took me just over half an hour to walk from the back of the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount Excavations. Emmaus should be located therefore some 11 kms or 7 miles from Jerusalem. But in which direction did Jesus go? North, south, east or west? We are not told.
The name Emmaus does not occur anywhere in the Old Testament. However, in one of the New Testament manuscripts, the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, as pointed out by Read-Heimerdinger and Rius-Camps, Emmaus is called Oulammaous. Another ancient source also refers to these names. This is because of an association that was made by some of the early translators with the name of the place where Jacob had a dream after he left his family to go to Padanaram.
This first place where Jacob stopped overnight he called Bethel, which means the House of God:
“And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first”. (Gen. 28:19)
The word order in Hebrew is different:
“And he called the name of that place Bethel: but Luz was the name of the place at first”.
In the Hebrew text, “but Luz” is “Oulamlouz”, and this became Oulammaous in this manuscript, from which comes Ammaus by changing the “L” to an “M. (Emmaus is the Latin translation).
If Emmaus and Bethel are essentially the same place, then there are amazing parallels between Jacob’s stay in Bethel and Jesus going to Emmaus with the two disciples.
Some questions still remain to be answered. When the two disciples returned to Jerusalem, they said, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:34)
How did they know that? And who was Cleopas? If the name of Bethel had been obscured, then maybe the name of Cleopas also stood for somebody else. I believe he was Peter, for Cleopas (if you take out the letter ‘L’, as with Oulamaous) sounds very much like Cephas, unto whom we know that Jesus appeared before the other disciples. In the gospels we read that after his resurrection Jesus appeared unto Mary Magdalene first, but it is also written in 1Cor. 15:4,5 that “Jesus was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve”.
In this Lucan account, Peter’s identity is hidden, reflecting perhaps the fact that his eyes were restrained. Jesus had earlier changed Peter’s name to Cephas when he made that good confession that Jesus was the Son of living God. This confession became the foundation stone on which the church is built. Jesus had called him also Simon son of Jonah, which means “hearer, son of a dove” – a dove is type of the Holy Spirit. Listening to Jesus’ explanation of why he had to suffer and die, and believing after Jesus had broken bread, made him a true hearer.
So, if Cleopas is indeed Cephas, then Jesus indeed first appeared to Peter before the other disciples, and if that is so, then how great is the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus toward the disciple who had betrayed him!
There may be other reasons why the name of Bethel does not appear in the New Testament and that the Canaanite name of Luz (Gen. 28:19) for Bethel was used instead. First of all, Bethel in Hebrew means the House of God, which at that time was understood to be the Temple in Jerusalem.
The second reason may be that the people of this place were ashamed of their connection with the temple that Jeroboam had built for the worship of Baal, who was often portrayed as a bull (1 Kings 12:26-33). When some Baal-worshipping youths returned from Bethel to Jericho, they met Elisha and mocked him. Elisha then cursed them in the name of Yahweh, as this meeting had become a confrontation between the worship of Yahweh and that of Baal. Elisha was vindicated when, by divine intervention, two she bears mauled these idol worshippers. The people of Bethel may have wanted to disassociate themselves from their shameful past.
It also makes sense that Emmaus would have been located on the Way of the Patriarchs, on which Abraham, Jacob and Joseph had travelled. This ridge road connects places, such as Beersheba, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethel, Shiloh and Shechem, where some of the most important events in Scripture took place.
 Several candidates for identification with Emmaus have been suggested, e.g. Mozah (Qaloniyeh), Abu Gosh (Castellum), el-Qubeibeh and Imwas (Emmaus-Nicopolis). None of these places, however, have a relevant historical connection to the site under consideration.
 This manuscript is held at the University of Cambridge: https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-NN-00002-00041/1
 Read-Heimerdinger, J. and Rius-Camps, J., “Emmaus or Oulammaous? Luke’s Use of the Jewish Scriptures in the Text of Luke 24 in Codex Bezae”, Revista Catalana de Teologia (RCatT) 27 (2002), pp. 23-43.
 Eusebius of Caesarea, in Onomasticon 40.20 writes, “Baithel (Bethel) is now a village twelve miles from Ailia (Jerusalem) to the right of the road going to Neapolis (Shechem). It was formerly called Oulamma and also Luza. It was given to the lot of the tribe of Benjamin, near Bethaun (Bethaven) and Gai (Ai). Josue (Joshua) also fought there killing the king.”
 The site of Ras et-Tahunah at al-Bireh is an elevated hill, which has been tentatively identified as the high place of Bethel.
 These youths were not little children. The Hebrew na’arim ketanim indicates young people, not little children. Abraham’s 318 young men that defeated the armies of Chedorlaomer and his allies, were also called na’arim (Gen. 14:24). When Solomon became king at the age of 40, he asked God for wisdom as he said that he was but a “little child” (na’ar katan), the same Hebrew words that were used to described the youths in 2 Kings 2:23,24.
A couple of days ago, the Palestinians destroyed part of the surrounding wall of an important archaeological site on Mount Ebal. Although its identification is controversial, many believe that these are the remains of the altar that Joshua built on Mount Ebal (Joshua 8:30) . Whatever the identification, the destruction of archaeological sites in Israel is deplorable. For further comments, see: here, here and here (with aerial video).
I know the site well, for in 1983, I was asked by Prof. Benjamin Mazar to visit a new archaeological site on Mount Ebal that was being excavated by Adam Zertal and make reconstructions drawings of this altar.
As Zachi comments: “What happened recently in Mount Ebal is the tip of the iceberg about everything that has been happening in Judea and Samaria in recent years.” Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for the relevant authorities to put a stop to this senseless destruction.
In July 2006, my book The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was published. The launch of The Quest took place at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, USA.
I don’t know who was more excited to see this book in print, John E. Mancini of the Lamb Foundation who had sponsored me to write this book, Emanuel Hausman, Chairman of Carta Publishing in Jerusalem, or myself.
I dedicated the book to “John E. Mancini for sharing the vision to let the ancient stones tell their story and his unstinting support of The Quest.” We first met in Albuquerque, where Dr. Steven Collins, asked me to lecture on a regular basis as adjunct-professor at Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque, NM, which he heads. I wrote this in the preface of The Quest:
For several years, Dr. Collins and I led tours to Israel. One participant, John E. Mancini, who with his wife Chris attended all our seminars and tours, expressed great interest in my research and was keen to make this material publicly available. John had already set up the Lamb Foundation to help Trinity and other projects, and during the fall of 1999 offered to help publish this book on the Temple Mount. I am delighted to thank him for the opportunity he gave me to devote myself to the presentation of my research carried out from the start of my archaeological career on the Temple Mount excavations in 1973. Thanks to John E. Mancini, to whom the book is dedicated, and all those who aided and accompanied me on this long and arduous journey, the public at large can now partake in the extensive documentation of Temple Mount history and archaeology provided by this volume and evaluate the proffered solutions to vexing questions.
Kathleen and I have experienced how pleasant it is to work with Carta, the Jerusalem publishers, on a number of publications. This book has, however, been a much more elaborate project. My thanks to all the people at Carta, their superb management and meticulous attention to the many details demanded by this title, especially to Barbara Laural Ball for her sensitive editing and general supervision of the project. Their proficiency can be seen on every page.
Ten years later, the book is still in demand and sells well and we have had many positive comments and favourable reviews. Yesterday, the 4th of July 2016, our book was chosen by the Temple Mount Sifting Project to top their list of the “10 Books To Read If You’re Into Archaeology and Israel” (even before the Hebrew Bible!).
This list was created by the staff of the Temple Mount Sifting Project in honor of their Book Week Campaign. It includes everything you need to know about Israel, Jerusalem, archaeology, and the Temple Mount.
1. The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem
This book is by Leen Ritmeyer. The recommendation was fought over by Gaby Barkay and Frankie Snyder. We will give them both credit.
“No book is better suited to the study, understanding and development of the manmade plateau that is the focus of the world s interest the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Ritmeyer’s experience as architect of the Temple Mount Excavations following the Six-Day War, coupled with his exploration of parts of the mount now hardly accessible and his doctoral research into the problems of the Temple Mount make him singularly qualified for the task.”
The other books on the list look very interesting too!
Nir Sasson wrote a fascinating article in Haaretz on the underground excavations taking place in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has vastly expanded in the 7,000 years of its existence. Including, in the past two decades, downwards. Beneath the Old City, one can already walk hundreds of meters underground, pray in subterranean spaces of worship and see shows in subterranean caverns and halls. There are plans in place to dramatically increase this area – essentially, restoring the true ancient city beneath the visible one.
The article is accompanied by excellent plans, photographs and videos to bring you up to speed with what is happening underground. Despite protests from the Palestinians, who deny that the Jews have any historical connection with the Temple Mount, these digs do not penetrate below the Temple Mount.
Magnificent discoveries have been made in the City of David:
Near a 3,000-year-old fortification wall in the park’s center, or in the center of Silwan – depending on whom you ask, we descend underground through an iron door. It leads into a short tunnel that opens up into a series of rooms and halls. Here, in an area still closed to the public, fortification and water systems were discovered, mainly from the Canaanite period, or according to Jewish chronology – prior to the capture of the city by King David. Some have been known to science for over 100 years.
It is possible today to visit the underground remains in the City of David, see the Gihon Spring and walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel that brings you to the Siloam Pool. From there one can walk underground through an ancient sewer below the Herodian street that leads up to just below Robinson’s Arch in the Temple Mount excavations, aka the Davidson Archeological Park. (see this video: 01_uknima)
A large stretch of the Herodian street had already been excavated above ground by the team of Prof. Benjamin Mazar in the 1970’s along the southern end of the Western Wall. The street that was found below Robinson’s Arch continues north to the Damascus Gate and south to the Siloam Pool in the City of David:
Before Mazar’s excavations, smaller parts of the same street had been excavated lower down in the City of David by Bliss and Dickie in the 1890’s, in the 1930’s by Hamilton and in the 1960’s by Kathleen Kenyon.
In the last couple of years, underground excavations have apparently expanded and uncovered the full width of the Herodian street for a stretch of 120 meters. The original width was 7.50 meters. New tunnels are being dug to connect this street with the Givati parking lot excavations and the new visitor’s centre planned in this area just south of the Dung Gate.
To the north of the Western Wall Plaza one can walk through the Western Wall Tunnel and see the many new areas that have been excavated. The plan appears to be that in the future all these areas will be linked together, so that a “subterranean City of Jerusalem” can be visited.
Not everybody is happy about this development. One protester said:
“A huge excavation project is taking place here, hidden from the public eye, using outdated excavation methods. This is an excavation without boundaries and without any clear category, it’s not a research dig and not a rescue dig, it has no limit of time or place and no professional objectives.”
The excavation methods are not outdated, but these plans are very ambitious and politically controversial. However, once realised, a whole new experience is waiting for tourists to explore this “parallel universe” and enjoy a journey through “Underground Jerusalem”.