Entertainment and exploration of ancient sites in Jerusalem

Together with the Ramparts Walk, Zedekiah’s Cave and the Roman Plaza provide a glimpse into Jerusalem’s ancient past – the musical performances in the Cave provide an excellent view into its present.

By ALAN ROSENBAUM
September 5, 2019 11:52
Visitors at Zedekiah’s cave

Visitors at Zedekiah’s cave . (photo credit: YAEL HERMAN/PAMI)

While some of Jerusalem’s best-known landmarks, such as the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Bridge of Strings soar high in the sky, one of the city’s most exciting sites lies deep beneath the Old City. It’s called Zedekiah’s Cave, and is named after the Biblical King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, who according to legend, fled through the cave and its tunnels in an attempt to escape from the Babylonians over 2,500 years ago. Zedekiah was captured by the Babylonians near Jericho and his sons were put to death. He was blinded by his captors, exiled to Babylon, and the Temple was destroyed. Near the back of the cave is a spring, where water drains into a small pool. In accordance with this account, the area is known as Zedekiah’s Tears, because of the tears he shed upon losing his kingdom and seeing his children executed.

Others claim that the cavern’s history dates to the time of King Solomon, who, it is said, used the stones from the cavern’s quarries to build the First Temple. Due to this association with King Solomon and the construction of the Temple, the cave is sometimes called Solomon’s Quarry. It is more likely that the cave was used as a quarry during the Second Temple period and was maintained by King Herod for his numerous construction projects, including the renovation of the Second Temple.

The stones quarried from the cave are known as Melekh stone, which is a high-quality type of limestone. The  quarry was also used by Suleiman the Magnificent, the 16th-century Ottoman ruler who built the present-day city walls. The cave was later sealed to prevent enemy attacks, and its existence forgotten, until it was rediscovered in 1854 by Dr. James Turner Barclay, an American missionary visiting Jerusalem.

The Freemasons, a fraternal organization that traces its origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons, believed that King Solomon was the first mason, and said that their organization originated with the workers who built Solomon’s Temple. They regarded Zedekiah’s Cave as the ideal location to hold their secret rituals. In 1868, the first meeting of Freemasons in Ottoman Palestine was held in the cave. To this day, an annual ceremony is held in the chamber.

The cave was reopened to the public during the British Mandate, and during World War II a concrete wall and a passageway were installed, so that the cave could be used as a bomb shelter in the event of an attack on Jerusalem. The cave was closed when it fell under Jordanian control in 1948. In 1967, after the Six Day War, electric lighting and walkways were added to the cave, and in 1985, further improvements were made.

The entrance to Zedekiah’s Cave is beneath the Old City wall, between Damascus Gate (Sha’ar Shechem) and Herod’s Gate. The cave itself is 9,000 square meters (approximately 96,875 square feet), and the average height is approximately 15 meters, about the height of a four-story building. The cave slopes into a large open chamber called the Freemason’s Chamber. From the entrance until its farthest point, the cave extends approximately 200 meters. While the entrance to the cave is a geological phenomenon, the cavern itself was carved out over a period of several thousand years.

Today, Zedekiah’s Cave is a major venue for concerts and cultural events throughout the year, and the auditorium-like chamber is used for top-notch entertainment. Benny Sasi, director of the East Jerusalem Development Company (PAMI), says, “Four years ago, we began to hold musical performances inside Zedekiah’s Cave. We have engaged the very best Israeli performers, such as Aviv Gefen, Keren Peles, Yoni Rechter, Miri Mesika, Shalom Hanoch, Mati Caspi, Dudu Tassa, and others. Concerts are held once every two weeks on average, and, Sasi notes, “Performances sell out. People come from throughout the country to these concerts, and follow the performance listings on our Facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/zedekiyahucaveevents/].”

The concert area inside the cave seats 500 and provides a unique experience for both artists and audiences with its unique acoustic setting.

Sasi notes that the East Jerusalem Development Company has recently added numerous enhancements to the cave, including an improved entrance, upgraded steps, new inside lighting, and railings, which are part of a NIS 20 million improvement program provided by the Jerusalem Development Authority. The entrance fee for the cave is NIS 18, and guided tours are available for additional cost. Sasi says that in the near future, explanatory films and exhibits will be added to Zedekiah’s Cave, so that visitors can learn about its history independently.

The entrance to the Roman Plaza  (Credit: ITAMAR GRINBERG)

Nearby Zedekiah’s Cave is the Roman Plaza, located underneath Damascus Gate, which was built by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 135 CE, to commemorate the victory over the Judean rebels led by Bar Kochba. A pillar with a statue of Hadrian once stood in the plaza, and in Roman times, distances to different locations in the country were measured from this pillar. The Arabic name for Damascus Gate – Bab el Amud – “Gate of the Pillar” refers to this pillar. The original plaza contained three entrances, one of which remains today. The Roman gate was the northern entrance to Aelia Capitolina, the Roman city built on the site of Jerusalem. The original stone floor of the square remains, and a small museum features maps and Roman antiquities. The Roman Plaza is open daily except Fridays, from 9 AM until 7 PM. The admission fee is NIS 10.

Adjacent to the Roman Plaza is the northern section of the Ramparts Walk. The Ramparts Walk provides a stunning, panoramic view of Jerusalem from the top of the Old City Walls in the clear Jerusalem air. The Walk is divided into two routes – the Northern section, which goes from Jaffa Gate to Herod’s Gate, and the Southern path, from Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall. The Northern section is open every day except Friday, from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM, and the Southern section is open Sunday-Thursday from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM, and Friday and holiday eves from 9:00 AM until 2:00 PM. Admission prices are NIS 20 for adults and NIS 8 for children.

Together with the Ramparts Walk, Zedekiah’s Cave and the Roman Plaza provide a glimpse into Jerusalem’s ancient past – and the musical performances in the Cave provide an excellent view into its present. 

This article was written in cooperation with the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage.


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