It all started with an exploded sewage pipe 20 years ago at the City of David, one of the premier tourist attractions in Jerusalem’s Old City. The new finds are due to be opened to the public in the next year, but The Jerusalem Report got an early look.
“So they send a team to fix it (the sewage pipeline),” said Yehuda Deutch, a tour guide at the City of David. “They were smart enough to have an archaeologist there to supervise. As they were digging underneath the pipe, they came across some ancient findings and the archaeologist said, “We are going to have to come back here and dig, and meanwhile you’ll have to install a temporary pipe.”
They excavate from 2004 to 2007, eventually uncovering part of the famous Pool of Shiloah, a giant ritual bath used by tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims who came to Jerusalem on the three festivals of Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot.
Part of the pool was opened to the public in 2012. Now they have uncovered the ancient road that led from the City of David to the Pool of Shiloah, and from the pool to the Temple.
“So what are we standing on right now?” Deutch asked. “A 2,000-year-old road. These are the original tiles – not fixed, not renovated. The archaeologists just cleaned out the dirt. That’s it.”
“So what are we standing on right now? A 2,000-year-old road. These are the original tiles – not fixed, not renovated. The archaeologists just cleaned out the dirt. That’s it.”Yonatan Deutch
Along the side of the road were shops, some of which have been reconstructed. The idea that you can walk on the same road where pilgrims walked 2,000 years ago is thrilling. It will enable tourists to feel like they are reenacting the ancient pilgrimage.
The process of excavating the road is complicated and expensive. The entire area is filled with dirt, which must be emptied. Supports must be put in place to make sure the area does not collapse while diggers are working. The work is done slowly to make sure nothing is lost.
Uzi Leibner, a professor of archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says the paved street dates to the late Second Temple period (1st century CE) and shows that the area continued to be important even after the city expanded significantly to what is today the Old City of Jerusalem, Mount Zion, and further north.
“The street itself seems somewhat ceremonial – it resembles the steps climbing up to the Huldah gates at the entrance to the temple with one wide step and then one narrow one,” he said in an interview. “Outside the City of David we found huge piles of what seems to be the city garbage dump with a disproportional amount of cooking pots from the first century. We can imagine tent camps of pilgrims who were situated outside the city of tens of thousands of people who would come for the festivals. Within the city wall at the southern edge of the City of David is a huge stepped pool, which could have been used by pilgrims for drinking and immersing.”
He said that opinions about the City of David have changed. Originally some thought it was a relatively poor neighborhood during this period, and anyone who could afford it moved to the new higher neighborhoods around the current Old City. But in the last few decades, he said, archaeologists have learned that the City of David also had wealthy residents, with large, well-built and decorated houses.
The history of the City of David, a Jerusalem site dating to antiquity
The new road will join a series of excavations that have already made the City of David one of the premier tourist attractions in Jerusalem. The City of David began over 3000 years ago when the Biblical King David left the city of Hebron and began building on a small hilltop in Jerusalem.
David’s son Solomon built the First Temple in 1,000 BCE and Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, destroyed it in 586 BCE. The Temple was then rebuilt and destroyed again in 70 CE. Along the new road recently discovered were ashes that apparently were from that destruction.
Decades ago, Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered a monumental structure that some believe is King David’s palace and others say is from a later time. There is also a water tunnel believed to be built by King Hezekiah 2700 years ago that is a great way to cool down on a hot day.
Like almost everything in Israel, the City of David is also political. The City of David is next to the Palestinian village of Silwan and the site is run by the Ir David Foundation, which has been criticized by the European Union for using tourism and archaeology to justify Jewish settlements. The foundation itself does not disagree.
“The Ir David Foundation is committed to continuing King David’s legacy as well as revealing and connecting people to Ancient Jerusalem’s glorious past through four key initiatives: archaeological excavation, tourism development, educational programming and residential revitalization,” its website reads.
The foundation, which is called Elad in Hebrew, also works to buy homes in the area and subsidize Jewish families to live there. Several dozen families live in the area today under police protection.
During the pandemic when there were almost no tourists in Israel, the City of David invested in a virtual exhibition online called “Unearthed.” It includes animated recreations of some of the sites such as the Palace and Hezekiah’s water tunnel. ■