Off the Beaten Track: City of David

There's no better place this Passover to explore new excavations that have so much to do with the holiday.

City of David Silwan Archeological site 311 R (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
City of David Silwan Archeological site 311 R
(photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
When I first arrived in Israel I was in awe of the remnants of biblical and Talmudic Jerusalem. It seemed that everywhere I turned I would bump into something that would send me almost 2,000 or 3,000 years in back time. My mind would race through history and my emotions would bubble up to the surface and sometimes, even for this secular Jew, I would find myself in the midst of a spiritual experience.
More than twenty years later nothing has changed. Every few weeks or months another site is excavated, a previously excavated site is reinterpreted or a current excavation turns up wonderful surprises. When I explore these new or old sites with even just a small expansion of a new excavation I find my heart racing, with goose bumps rising up my spine as I discover, once again our collective connection to this beautiful land of ours.
There is no better place this Passover or Easter holiday, to explore the new finds and excavations having everything to do with those holidays than at the City of David and Davidson Center.
Start your tour at the City of David National Park which is just down the road from Dung Gate outside the city walls at the entrance to Silwan. Purchase combination tickets for the City of David and the Davidson Center if you don’t mind an underground walk through a long, sometimes slippery, uphill, ancient tunnel (I highly recommend it).
Starting this Passover you will be able to walk the entire distance from the Shiloach (Siloam) Pool to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. If you go before Passover begins you can walk from through the tunnels from the Givati parking lot to the Western Wall.
There are terrific guided tours given by staff at the national park. Start your tour with the 3-D movie, which gives a wonderful recreation of the City of David from Canaanite times through the destruction of Solomon’s Temple.
Go up to the roof for a terrific view of the Temple Mount and surrounding area. From there make your way down below the ticket area by way of a metal staircase between the movie theater and the ticket booth. Here you will find a huge public building complex dating back to the time of King David, uncovered by Eilat Mazar in 2005. She contends that this is the remains of the palace of King David and we can be almost certain that later Kings of Judah ruled from this spot.
Several clay seals where found in this excavation bearing names in biblical Hebrew. Notice the large stone walls from the 9th and 10th centuries BCE and the ritual baths from the later Maccabean period, then make your way down to the Area G excavations on the far side of the “palace." Here you can view the older excavations from the 1960’s and before.
Make your way all the way down to Warren’s Shaft and you can check out the excavations of the Israelite and Canaanite underground water systems which have been explored and excavated since 1867. Near Warren’s Shaft you can see the difference between the Israelite renovations of the tunnel at your level and the original Canaanite tunnel above you.
After turning the corner you will see some relatively new excavations. In 1995 archaeologists Reich and Shukron began excavating the “Spring House” and discovered an interconnecting complex of a tower, fortress, reservoir, walls and tunnels that may have been the entry point for David’s soldiers led by Yoav (Joab) in his conquest of the Jebusites.
Go down the spiral staircase and either walk through King Hezekiah’s water tunnel (bathing suit, flashlights and water shoes required) or the adjacent Canaanite water tunnel (well lit and now dry) which was a part of the newly-discovered tower complex.
Both tunnels will eventually take you to the Shiloach Pool if you follow the signs. In 2004, while fixing a sewer pipe, construction workers stumbled upon some long stairs a few dozen meters from where the Byzantines believed was the Shiloach Pool.
Reich and Shukron’s excavations uncovered what we now know is the pool, an important site for both Jews and Christians. For Jews this was the first stop for those coming to Jerusalem from abroad, on their way up to the Temple for the Passover sacrifice. It was here, after coming out of the desert, that they could cleanse themselves and start the ascent up to the Temple Mount.
For Christians, this site takes on another meaning. When Jesus comes to Jerusalem for the Passover sacrifice, he comes upon a blind man in Jerusalem he spits on the ground and using the spit-mud, rubs it in the man’s eyes and tells him “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam…He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing (John 9:7)."
Walk west up the hill, up the stairs just after the pool and there is a metal door. Inside you will find a narrow portion of a giant stairway built in the time of King Herod which heads all the way up to the Temple Mount. If you were to come here 2,000 years ago there would be nothing but sky up above you but today there are layers of destroyed civilizations, all from different periods of Jerusalem’s history above you. Just to the right of the stairway is a sewer with some of the stone coverings broken open. Inside Ronny Reich found remnants of the Jewish rebels battle against the Romans in the year 70 CE.
Go around the corner and check out the artist’s rendition of the pool and continue around the corner. Here is a terrific map that shows the path of the road and the drainage channel that reaches the Western Wall. The road was once lined with shops, including moneychangers, sellers of animals for the sacrifice and ritual baths. Today you may walk underground through this tunnel all the way to the Western Wall at the Davidson Center just as Jewish pilgrims once did when the Temple was still standing.
Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.