Also known as Solomon's Quarries, Zedekiah's Cave is a 20,000-square-meter underground limestone quarry running under the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City for a full five blocks, making it the largest man-made cave in Israel.
The cavern extends about 200 meters (650 feet) from its entrance (the only part of it that is natural), it is roughly 100 meters (330 feet) in width, and its depth is more than 9 meters (30 feet) below street level. And yet, as large as the Cave is today, it was once much larger, having spanned beyond the Old City walls all the way to the area of the Garden Tomb.
Although it is known that the cave was carved over a period of several thousand years, no one knows quite how old it actually is.
The Bible in the Book of Jeremiah mentions that Zedekiah, the last king
of Judea, attempted to escape from the city in the wake of the
Babylonian invasion, and Medieval Bible commentator Rashi writes that
the beleaguered monarch fled through a huge tunnel. Many attribute the
cave to King Solomon himself, especially the Freemasons, who consider
the legendary monarch the first Masonic Grand Master and hold annual
ceremonies in the cave.
For over 300 years, the cave lay dormant, not much more than another
Jerusalem legend among many. And then, on a sunny day in 1854, American
missionary James Turner Barclay was walking his dog along the outskirts
of Jerusalem, when the dog, hot in pursuit of a fox, sifted through some
dirt alongside the Old City wall and abruptly disappeared through a
hole that opened up.
Later that day, under the cover of darkness, Barclay and his two sons,
decked out in Arab garb, slipped through the opening to reveal the
yawning cavern, as well as the skeletons of several unfortunate souls
who had apparently been trapped in the cave. These days, entering the
Zedekiah's Cave is not quite as much of an ordeal, and visitors can
access the opening just behind the Old City wall, between Herod Gate and
Damascus Gate. Everything is well lit, and there are safety railings
where necessary. So come explore Jerusalem's underground scene; it's
every bit as breathtaking as the rest of the Old City.
Stay tuned for more episodes of CITYsights.
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