Ophel City Walls Site_311.
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
A large complex of ruins from the First Temple period called the Ophel City
Walls Site was inaugurated on Tuesday in the Walls Around Jerusalem National
Park, showcasing one of the most complete excavations from the First Temple
period and the area believed to be the Water Gate mentioned in the
The site, which was uncovered by Hebrew University’s
Dr. Eilat Mazar, contains mikvaot (ritual baths), store rooms, a
watchtower, and royal buildings, where archeologists found dozens of large clay
pots of various sizes.
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Mazar added that the ruins were well preserved,
with some interior walls up to five meters high. She first became interested in
the area while working with her grandfather, the late Dr. Benjamin Mazar,
responsible for the archeological excavations of the Temple Mount following the
Six Day War.
“Our future lies in the fact that we can reconstruct our
past,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who attended the inauguration along with
East Jerusalem Development Company director Gideon Shamir, representatives from
the Antiquities Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority.
shows the world how the city looked so we can understand the layers of history,”
said Barkat. “Part of our strategy is to respect the history of Jerusalem
through its layers,” he said, adding that every effort would be made to “expose
every piece of Jewish history.”
The site will soon be opened to the
public as part of the Davidson Center Archeological Garden, and may be part of a
future “Promenade of Mikvaot.”
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Since all pilgrims to the Temple Mount had
to purify themselves before entering, the area is dotted with dozens of ritual
baths both large and small.
Avi Mashiah, a conservation expert with the
Antiquities Authority who oversaw the conservation efforts of the Ophel City
Wall Site, added that some of the pots and stones were still blackened from the
fires set in the destruction of the First Temple.
The excavations allowed
the archeologists to better understand the early construction methods on the
steep hillsides of Jerusalem. The ingenuity of the construction is evidenced by
the fact that the watchtower, which was discovered in the excavations, still
provides the base for the major road that wraps around the Old City Walls
opposite Silwan, Mashiah said.
Mazar believes the area is described in
the Torah in the verse about King Solomon's temple: “...and the temple servants
living on Ophel repaired to a point opposite the Water Gate on the east and the
projecting tower” (Nehemiah 3:26). It may have been called the Water Gate
because of the plethora of mikvaot in the area.
The excavation was
financed by a gift from Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman. “The first time we
were here with our kids six years ago, a friend introduced us to Dr. Mazar, who
brought us here,” Meredith Berkman told The Jerusalem Post. “To my untrained
eye, it looked like a pile of old stones and garbage, but she [Mazar] said, ‘I
believe this is the remnants of the walls built by King Solomon.’ I was aghast
that it was in such poor condition,” Berkman said.
Mazar and the
Antiquities Authority have been working for two years, since they received the
final approval from the city and relevant historical groups, on excavations and
Also on Tuesday, a fragment of the earliest written
document ever discovered in Jerusalem was unveiled. The two-centimeter fragment
was discovered by Mazar’s team in the area, and dates from the late Bronze Age.
Experts believe that the fragment, written in Akkadian cuneiform script, seems
to be a copy of a letter sent from the city to an Egyptian King, when the city
was still called Salem. The fragment was unveiled at its permanent exhibit in
the Davidson Center.
“I want people to be impressed by the actual remains
and the importance of the ancient history of Jerusalem,” said Mazar after the
inauguration. “It showed the potential that ancient Jerusalem exists for us to
reveal,” she said.
“When it’s tangible, it makes it easy to understand,”
Mazar added. “People believe what’s in these stories [in the Bible], but they
don’t understand that they can see and touch this as well.”
with Emek Shaveh (Common Ground), a non-profit group of archeologists and
community organizers, said that the site itself was less controversial than the
nearby City of David Archeological Park, because it was not in the middle of a
residential neighborhood, but they had issues with the presentation.
think it’s a political act using archeology to focus and show the Israeli and
Judean heritage of the place and ignoring the richness of the site,” Emek Shaveh
head Yonathan Mizrachi said. “It’s part of the big picture, the sites around it
have been excavated already by archeologists in the ’60s and ’70s, and instead
of showing multicultural aspects of the sites, and how each culture influenced
and impacted Jerusalem, we’re again facing a situation that they have decided to
focus mostly on the side of Israeli heritage.”
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