Archeologists rip planned bridge to Mughrabi Gate

Fears expressed span's pylons could damage antiquities in nearby archeological garden.

Mugharabi Gate 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Mugharabi Gate 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
The planned construction of a new bridge leading through an archeological garden to the Mughrabi Gate near the Western Wall has incurred stinging criticism from dozens of senior archeologists in Israel, officials said Sunday. The bridge, which is being built by the Israel Antiquities Authority, will replace the temporary walkway constructed more than a year ago at the women's section of the Wall after the original stone ramp to the Mughrabi Gate was removed, having been deemed unsafe by engineers. The new bridge, which has received a green light from the city's planning committee and the blessing of the rabbi of the Western Wall, is slated to tower above the archeological garden next to the site and will be supported by as many as eight pylons anchored in that garden, Jerusalem district archeologist Yuval Baruch said Sunday. A salvage excavation is starting at the site this week, Baruch said, adding that the three pylons approved so far had been placed as close as possible to the sidewalk in an effort not to detract from the archeological garden. The site, located outside the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, has been deemed one of the world's most significant archeological parks. The plan to construct the new bridge straight through the archeological garden has provoked fierce opposition by archeologists, who say that the bridge will inevitably damage antiquities. "What is being done is a crime against one of the world's top archeological places, and the Antiquities Authority is lending its hand to this crime, the destruction of archeology," said Dr. Eilat Mazar, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Shalem Center. Mazar noted that there is no need for the bridge - whose planned length has nearly tripled - to run through the garden. Originally, the route for the bridge ran between the Western Wall and the site. "The archeological garden is of primary importance to the future and history of Jerusalem and under no circumstance should be touched," said Professor Amos Kloner, former Jerusalem district archeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority. Kloner lambasted the IAA for succumbing to "foreign interests" in approving the plan and forgoing its mandate to preserve the archeological site. Kloner added that a petition against the planned bridge had been signed by 30 leading Israeli archeologists, already forcing some changes in the proposal. But the Antiquities Authority said that it was impossible to please everyone. The original stone ramp, built in 1967 after the Six Day War, served as the point of entry to the Temple Mount for non-Muslim visitors. The ramp was badly damaged by an earthquake that rattled that region three years ago and by inclement weather. After city engineers declared the ramp unsafe for use, it was removed. The bridge built next to it has cut off more than a third of the space allocated for women's prayer at the Western Wall. The new bridge will restore the original space of the women's prayer area, Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch said. The haredi rabbi is opposed to Jews entering the Temple Mount compound, and is happy to distance the entryway to Judaism's holiest site from the Western Wall plaza.