A view of one of the path’s ritual baths..
(photo credit: ASSAF PEREZ, COURTESY OF IAA)
A pathway between two 2,000-yearold ritual baths (mikvaot) once used by pilgrims to purify themselves before ascending the Temple Mount will be inaugurated at the historic Ophel site in the Davidson Center Archeological Park on Thursday.
Located by the walls of Jerusalem National Park, the Antiquities Authority said on Sunday the “mikve path,” which it described as “experimental, circular and modular,” was constructed and conserved with the help of donations from Australian entrepreneur Kevin Bermeister.
“The path has been highlighted and, in that way, it can be better understood within the historical and archeological complexity of the Ophel site, which was continuously inhabited from the Iron Age to the Crusader period,” the authority said in a statement.
The arrival of tens of thousands of pilgrims who were lodged in the city’s houses during the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Succot necessitated an infrastructure capable of supplying water that was used both for religious rituals and to maintain purification rituals.
For hundreds of years after the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews were forbidden from residing in Jerusalem, and the city’s non-Jewish inhabitants utilized the abandoned baths for their own purposes as water cisterns, storage spaces and quarries.
The accepted interpretation of the biblical word ophel
(derived from the root of the Hebrew verb leha’apil, meaning to ascend) is an elevated portion of the city where a king resided or an administrative center was situated, which was likely high and concealed.
According to the Antiquities Authority, the ancient ascent in Jerusalem began from the south by the Siloam Pool via the City of David, to the Ophel and its ritual baths and on to the Temple Mount.
“At the same time, festivities and events departed to this area from the Temple Mount in the north,” the Antiquities Authority said. “Thus, the Ophel constituted an area of transition between the secular and the sacred, and the sacred and the secular – the pinnacle of a personal, religious and national journey that took place three times a year at Passover, Shavuot and Succot.”
Visitors to the new path will walk over “floating” bridges and stairs between the ruins of buildings and installations, and be provided with accompanying archeological, historical and halachic explanations.
“They will be able to learn about the characteristics of ritual baths and their role in Jewish society during the Second Temple period in general, and the pilgrims’ route, in particular,” the Antiquities Authority said.
The path, which was built and curated by Hana Gribetz and Nirit Shalev-Khalifa, respectively, is flanked by shade stations, observation points and gathering areas.
Following its official opening on Thursday, tickets for 75-minute tours of the path in English and Hebrew will be available at the Davidson Center Archeological Park. The tour is closed on Saturdays.