any vantage point in Jerusalem the City of David is a pretty
unimpressive sight. Indeed, it is hard to believe that this neglected
patch of land, a tiny triangle located outside the Old City walls and
south of the Temple Mount, was once the splendid capital of the mighty
kingdom of Judah.
But don't be deceived by appearances: Underneath the stones, weeds, and
rubble, the City of David is actually a work in progress where ongoing
excavations seem to confirm many a biblical narrative.
Begin at Jeremiah's Pit, just inside the entrance to the City of David
National Park. The largest of the cisterns uncovered here, it is
located in what was probably the courtyard of the contemporary
The 6th-century BCE prophet Jeremiah predicted that Jerusalem would be
lost and her people exiled to Babylon. When King Zedekiah couldn't
stand hearing so much doom and gloom, he ordered Jeremiah lowered into
a cistern which 'had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down
into the mud' (Jeremiah 38:6). Both its size and its location indicate
that this could be the famous pit.
Climb to the roof of the Judy Steinberg Exhibition Hall, situated at
the top of ancient Jerusalem. Look down and you will be surprised to
find that the original Holy City was very small. In fact, says tour
guide Donna Goldberg, at its widest point it was barely 100 meters
wide, and, from north to south, a mere 250m.-300m. long. There weren't
that many people here either: All told, in David's time Jerusalem
probably held less than 2,000 inhabitants.
David probably chose this site in an effort to unify his subjects. A
Jebusite (Canaanite) city as yet unconquered by the Israelites and
therefore still neutral, it lay on the border between the territories
allotted to Benjamin and Judah. It was also situated further north than
Hebron, closer to the center of the Promised Land, and flanked by deep
valleys that provided strategic protection on two of its three sides.
Besides, notes Goldberg, as it was off all the main routes, there was a
good chance that future conquering armies would pass it by.
Just as important was the presence of the Gihon Spring, also known as
the Shiloah. The only natural water source in the entire area, the
bountiful Gihon originates in rain that falls on the Judean Hills and
seeps through the region's porous limestone. Although the water appears
to flow continuously, it actually gushes out at regular intervals
several times a day.
Directly before you lies the Kidron Valley, much deeper in David's time
than it is today. The Arab village on the other side is Silwan, named
for the Shiloah (Silwan) nearby.
Until the late 19th century this entire slope was almost unpopulated.
Almost, but not quite, because the hill was just outside David's City
and therefore handy as a First Temple period burial site. Look
carefully at the houses and see that they either incorporate or are
built on top of typical First Temple Period burial caves.
In 1882 a large group of Yemenite Jews walked across the desert to the
Land of Israel. The penniless Yemenites were not welcomed into the
overcrowded Old City, where almost all of the Jews lived at the time.
Instead, they built simple Yemenite-style housing on the empty slope
outside the city walls in what is present-day Silwan.
But in 1929, when Arabs rioted all over the country, the Yemenites here
fled for their lives. Those who returned were forced to leave their
homes again - this time for good - in 1936, when Arabs once again
rioted. Little by little, local Arabs began constructing homes on the
Walking towards the excavations you'll see a huge stone wall called the
'stepped-stone structure.' At least 3,000 years old, sturdy and stable,
it probably served as a retaining wall for the royal palace on top of
The ruins you are about to see were burned to a crisp by Nebuchadnezzar
in 586 BCE when he conquered the city. Look for a two-story dwelling
whose rooms were divided by four pillars and a typical First Temple
period 'four-space' home. Archeologists named it the House of Ahiel,
based on an inscription found in its ruins.
Just to its right stands a large rectangular rock with a hole in the
middle. Believe it or not, this was a First Temple period privy, placed
on its side so it can be seen by visitors. Chemical analysis of the
matter directly beneath the hole revealed remains from a diet
chock-full of meat - consistent with what you would find in a besieged
population. During Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, people were
unable to gather produce from the fields. And, lacking extra provisions
for their animals, they slaughtered their beasts and ate them in
quantity. In the 2,500-year-old matter scientists also found a
particular intestinal parasite that was consistent with this kind of
Next look for the Burnt House, named for the charred beams discovered
within that date back to the destruction of Jerusalem and the First
Temple (586 BCE). The staircase leading from what was the first floor
to what would have been the second indicates that this, too, was a
two-storied villa - and a fancy one, at that. For among the remains
found were pieces of furniture imported from Syria - the first
discovery of this kind in Israel, according to Goldberg. Scores of
arrowheads, mute testimony to the fierce battle that waged in the city,
were also found in its ruins.
Now follow the path down the steps and to the left. Then turn right at
the sign for 'Warren's Shaft.' This is where, in the past, you would
have walked into a tunnel, begun a steep descent, and stopped at the
edge of a vertical shaft named for the young British officer who
Captain Charles Warren was hired by the Palestine Exploration Fund in
1867 to lead a survey of Palestine. Along with a 13-meter-deep natural
shaft, Warren exposed an astonishing water system that appeared to date
back to at least the 11th century BCE. It would have enabled
inhabitants to reach the Gihon spring without ever having to leave the
city's protective walls. Experts assumed that women descended the
tunnel, lowered their pails into the shaft, and brought up water from a
Exciting though this discovery was, however, Biblical archeologists
were most amazed by the shaft's possible connection to the Scriptures.
It seemed to solve a biblical riddle that had been puzzling scholars
for centuries: the question of how David's army managed to penetrate
the Jebusites' highly fortified defenses. Following this discovery it
seemed obvious that Joab, David's bravest soldier, gained entrance to
the city by climbing up the shaft and entering the Jebusite water
system! Until very recently, visitors at this point retraced their
steps and, huffing and puffing, returned to the entrance. Not anymore!
Today you ascend a few steps and continue through another, recently
opened tunnel into the 'spring house' and ongoing excavations.
In 1997, prior to construction of a visitors' center, archeologists
were called in to examine the work site and made discoveries that
changed archeologists' earlier views. According to the new theory,
explains Goldberg, Joab couldn't have climbed up the shaft because in
David's time it was hidden from view. In fact, it was embedded in the
bedrock, under the path taken by Jebusite women on their way to draw
While you are still standing at the edge of the shaft, look up to see a
distinct crack in the wall. Notice that the rock above the crack is of
a different appearance from the rock below. Apparently, when the
Jebusites carved out the original tunnel, probably back in the 18th
century BCE, that crack was at floor level. This means that the path
you are on was inside the bedrock.
If the Jebusites didn't draw water through Warren's shaft, where did
the water come from? Go up the stairs and walk through the newly opened
continuation of the ancient Jebusite tunnel.
You have reached a gigantic pool, discovered in the latest excavations
and well outside the original city. The Jebusites channeled water from
the spring to this pool, and guarded it from enemies with at least two
enormous towers. Look up, down, and around you to see rocks of
mind-boggling size: part of the ancient towers.
Well fortified though they were, the towers weren't good enough for
King Hezekiah. In 701 BCE, to prepare for a potentially disastrous
siege by Assyrian King Sennacherib, he decided to bring the Gihon's
waters into the city. Finally, the water would be completely out of the
Beginning at opposite ends of the bedrock, and listening for the
pounding of their cohorts on the other side, Hezekiah's engineers
carved out an amazing tunnel over half a kilometer long. If you feel
like having some fun, you can walk through Hezekiah's winding
water-filled tunnel and exit at what remains of the Shiloah Pool.
Before you enter the water, look to the left to see an opening. This is
another tunnel, currently being excavated, that was carved through the
mountain's bedrock and channeled water to fields in the valley.
Should you decide to forgo the water walk, turn left when you leave the
'spring house.' As you climb up the hill you may be able to discern
pieces of the original Jebusite and Israelite walls. You should already
be planning your next visit: when you come again, there will
undoubtedly be all kinds of new theories to tickle your fancy!Take advantage of a
special offer during Hol Hamoed, when the low price includes not only
David's City and free guided tours but also the Ophel Gardens and
Davidson Center (just inside Dung Gate).
During Hol Hamoed free
guided tours at David's City in English at 10:30 and 14:30, in Hebrew
every half an hour from 10-17:00. Today and Tuesday there is one
English tour at 10:30.
Hours: 9-17:00; Friday 9-13:00.
Buses 1,2, or 38 to the Jewish Quarter (and walk).
Site is well guarded.
To walk in Hezekiah's Tunnel (highly recommended):
Wear waterproof shoes and roll up the legs of your trousers (or hike up your skirts). Bring one flashlight per person!