Discovering the Jerusalem from the time of Jesus

Every wondered what Jerusalem looked like 2000 years ago? Archeological finds in the Jewish Quarter yield clues.

February 22, 2012 18:02
4 minute read.
Ancient Jerusalem mosaic floor found in the recept

Ancient Jerusalem mosaic floor found in the reception hall. (photo credit: Courtesy)

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One unique find is the seven-branched menorah (candelabra) carved on one of the walls. This is the oldest explicit depiction of the menorah, and it was probably carved by a person who had actually seen the original menorah, still at use at that time in the Temple.

Throughout the museum there are displays of terra cotta tableware, imported amphorae for wine and delicate flasks. The presence of several ritual baths and many stone vessels are an indication that the residents were priests who strictly adhered to the Jewish laws of ritual purity, because stone vessels were not subjected to ritual impurity.

Comparative pictures in the museum show how the site developed over the years, with illustrations of the Jewish Quarter in the 1940s (before it was destroyed in the War of Independence), during the excavations in the 1970s, and the rebuilt Jewish Quarter in the 1990s.

On the eastern side of the site, we arrive at a row of columns that belonged to a "peristyle" - a colonnade surrounding an open court - which formed part of an especially fine mansion. The Peristyle Building testifies to the wealth of the neighborhood and to how the inhabitants designed their homes meticulously in the Greco-Roman style that was popular in those times. From here the residents would have had a splendid view of the Temple esplanade where Jesus spent much of his time when he was in Jerusalem.

Ancient Jerusalem mosaic floor found in the reception hall (Courtesy)

A little further down, there is a beautiful mosaic floor found in the reception hall of another elegant Jewish residence. Then, we come to the "palatial mansion", the largest and most splendid of the houses uncovered on the site, probably inhabited by one of the families of the High Priest.

As one nears the end of the tour, a burnt room provides a glimpse of the tragic and violent end of the neighborhood and its inhabitants: The charred wooden beams that collapsed from the ceiling and the burnt mosaic stones testify to the great fire that raged in the city and to the destruction wrought by the Romans -the last moments of Jerusalem in its glory.

Model of ancient Jerusalem homes (Courtesy)
The Wohl Museum is situated just off the main square in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Guided tours and private tours are available, as well as MP3 recorded tours. For reservations, call 02-626-5922 or visit

Ariel Ben Ami was born in Canada and is currently a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and writes regularly for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. He is fascinated by the Jewish roots of Christianity and enjoys writing about biblical and theological topics. He is the founder and director of Catholics for Israel, a lay apostolate dedicated to building bridges and fostering reconciliation between Israel and the Church.

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