The Spring Citadel

A City of David archaeological exhibition features a 3,800-year-old Canaanite fortress and a visit to the times of the Patriarch Abraham

This was the most difficult excavation in the country’s history, according to Doron Spielman, vice president of the Ir David Foundation. (photo credit: CITY OF DAVID)
This was the most difficult excavation in the country’s history, according to Doron Spielman, vice president of the Ir David Foundation.
(photo credit: CITY OF DAVID)
 ‘Before there was a city of Jerusalem, there was a spring,” says Doron Spielman, vice president of the Ir David (City of David) Foundation.
The spring in question was the Gihon Spring, which features in a new Jerusalem exhibition that took archaeologist more than 19 years to complete. Spielman and other representatives of his foundation – which operates the City of David National Park and Archaeology Center just outside the Old City’s walls, close to the Western Wall plaza – gave The Jerusalem Post a tour of the exhibition this week.
Known as the Spring Citadel Center, the exposition features a 3,800-year old Canaanite fortress – the largest pre-Herodian fortification ever found in the country. The fortress encapsulates the Gihon Spring, whose flowing streams served as the main source of water for the ancient city of Jerusalem during the reign of King David, around 1000 BCE.
However, the showcased discoveries actually take visitors back in history an additional 800 years beyond King David’s rule, to the time of Abraham – around 1800 BCE.
In the Book of Genesis, the Bible references Jerusalem during that time as a Canaanite hilltop city called Salem, ruled by King Melchizedek. Upon hearing of Abraham’s military victory in the battle between the four kings and the five kings, Melchizedek offers Abraham wine and bread out of respect, and perhaps fear, hoping Abraham will allow him to keep his kingdom intact – which he does.
Archaeologists and historians reveal that the fortress itself remained impenetrable for 800 years, until King David and his general Joab managed to capture it from the Jebusites – an offshoot Canaanite nation – by launching a sneak attack via the water tunnels underground. After the fortress and eventually the entire city fell, David undertook the endeavor of establishing the Jewish capital of Jerusalem and uniting the Jewish nation under his rule. At the time, the Jews had been detached from each other, identifying only with their respective tribes.
During the tour, Spielman details the significance of David’s capture of the fortress.
“From the time of the Exodus from Egypt, through the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, until King David captured the Citadel, the Jews were splintered into the 12 tribes,” he says. “While the Jews did have a homeland, they didn’t have a home.
[Thanks to King David], this was the first time we had a place called home.”
Leading the Spring Citadel Center excavation – which Spielman says was “the most difficult excavation ever” in the country’s history – were Prof. Ronny Reich, who serves as the state’s chief archaeologist, and Eli Shukron, a leading archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, which supervised the dig.
The stations within the fortress display allow visitors to experience the site as it was during ancient times, throughout the various ruling kingdoms.
Etched into the rocky walls are small carved-out shelves where candles were placed, providing residents of the city (usually women) with a visible path as they descended the steep incline to the springs below to gather water. There is also a large carved-out area that archaeologists say is what remains of the first house on record in the vicinity of Jerusalem, dating back to the Bronze Age.
Another highlight is an open area just above the Gihon Spring, where it is believed that an aging and frail King David appointed his son Solomon as his successor, holding an anointing ceremony transferring power from father to son.
Spielman explains that according to traditional Jewish custom, a new king’s anointment always took place over a body of water.
At the bottom of the fortress is a state-of-the art audio-visual demonstration that highlights how the fortress looked in ancient times and how King David’s men were able to succeed in their surprise attack. However, while the presentation is certainly visual, there is little audio and zero narration.
Spielman explains that “the design idea behind the display is to reveal the archeology and provide the visitors with an authentic experience. In other words, the technology used is minimalistic, so visitors can use their imaginations to draw mental pictures of the Bible stories that took place here. The virtual experience is just an accompaniment; it aids in showing what an authentic treasure the fortress is, but it isn’t the focus.”
Dr. Gabriel Barkay, one of the country’s preeminent archaeologists and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, runs the City of David’s Temple Mount Sifting Project. He says that the Spring Citadel Center discovery is unique, since “we have no other findings which are as monumental in terms of their preservation from the Middle Bronze Age [2200- 1570 BCE].”
In general, he continues, the findings that take place at the City of David on a regular basis are “special, since this is the place where everything began, and is the focal point of urban life from antiquity to modern times.”
He adds that the City of David is in fact the true “Old City [of Jerusalem], which is outside the walls of the Old City [as we know them].”
As we end the tour and walk back up the steep steps toward the visitors’ center entrance, many groups are waiting to enter the City of David exhibitions, including the Spring Citadel Center. There are visitors from Australia, Sri Lanka and the US, as well as a large group of Arab women in traditional dress who traveled several hours by bus from the Galilee to visit this Jewish historical site.
Spielman isn’t surprised at the size of the crowd.
He says that the City of David, which attracts around half a million visitors a year, houses more biblical discoveries than any other museum or archaeological park in the world.
“Now that the Spring Citadel Center is open, this will serve as springboard toward bringing other authentic experiences to life [at the site], including the Herodian Road, Shiloah Pool and others,” he says.
The goal of the center, he adds, is to create a “multi-day experience where people of all types, from all over the world, will journey with the Bible in hand and see the stories coming to life in front of their own eyes.”
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