Roman mansion 248.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy/Antiquities Authority)
A "magnificent" two-story Roman mansion of more than 1,000 square meters has been discovered by archeologists in the City of David Archeological Park outside the capital's Old City, the Antiquities Authority announced on Monday.
Previously, archeologist believed 3rd century Roman ruins extended only to the edge of the Ottoman Old City walls. The discovery of the mansion within the Givati parking lot, outside the walls and adjacent to the City of David, however, suggests Roman construction may have stretched to the bottom of the Silwan Valley, Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, the excavation's director, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
"This discovery was very surprising," Ben-Ami said. "We didn't expect to find any Roman building remains within the City of David. We were astonished at how huge the structure is. So far we uncovered 1,000 square meters and the structure still extends beyond the limits of the excavation area."
The find has already revolutionized historians' understanding of Roman settlement in Jerusalem, he said.
"The prevailing supposition among scholars that the City of David hill remained outside the area of Roman settlement at the time of Aelia Capitolina is no longer valid," said Ben-Ami.
The opulence of the building is apparent in its size and in artifacts recovered throughout the structures, the Antiquities Authority said in a statement.
"In the center of it was a large open courtyard surrounded by columns," reads the statement. "The building rose to a height of two stories and was covered with tile roofs... Excavators deduced that some of the walls of the rooms were treated with plaster and decorated with colorful paintings."
Also found within the structure were a marble figurine in the image of a boxer and a gold earring inlaid with precious stones.
The building most likely met its end during a massive earthquake that shook Jerusalem in 363 CE, Ben-Ami said.
"The destruction is clearly apparently within the excavation area," he said. "The walls of some rooms are caved-in and their stones are collapsed. It seems we have archeological evidence of the results of the earthquake that struck our region in 363 CE."
Meanwhile, controversy continues to swirl around the City of David Archeological Park where archeologists, Jewish new residents and veteran Palestinian residents vie for space on the crowded hillside.
Palestinians residents have protested the extent of excavations within the Silwan neighborhood, which is intertwined with the archeological park, claiming the digging has weakened the structural integrity of their houses and is being done for political, rather than archeological reasons.
The City of David Foundation, which is funding the dig with the permission of the Antiquities Authority, defines it mission as "continuing King David's legacy and strengthening Israel's current and historic connection to Jerusalem."
Ben-Ami told the Post he has only conducted his excavation within the open areas of the car park and does not intend to request permits from the Antiquities Authority to extend the digging under the adjacent neighborhood.