Tours of Western Wall tunnels show new underground area in Jerusalem

Christian vacationers go to Jerusalem to retrace Jesus’ closing footsteps alongside the By way of Dolorosa, Muslims to revere the Dome of the Rock, and Jewish individuals to insert written prayers into the cracks of the Western Wall.

Some individuals do all three.

Come December, vacationers may have a brand new choice out there to them when visiting Jerusalem. They’ll go underground to expertise a portion of the Outdated Metropolis because it existed some 2,000 years in the past.

An underground constructing

Following an excavation that lasted greater than 150 years, a buried constructing constructed round A.D. 20 is about to open to the general public this 12 months.

The subterranean constructing is positioned steps from the Western Wall, a retaining wall on the western facet of the Temple Mount, which is the holiest web site in Judaism and the place the place Jerusalem’s First and Second Temples as soon as stood.

About 10% of the unique Western Wall is seen at present, with most buried behind development within the Outdated Metropolis’s Muslim Quarter in addition to beneath the bottom.


The Western Wall can also be one of many prime websites for vacationers to Israel. It attracted 12 million guests in 2019, stated Eyal Carlin, the tourism commissioner for North America for the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

The excavated space dates to the interval of the Second Temple, which was initially constructed in sixth century B.C. and later vastly expanded by Herod the Nice, who dominated Jerusalem from 37 to 34 B.C. The Romans destroyed the temple round A.D. 70.

The brand new chambers are positioned underneath Wilson’s Arch, an archway that when supported a bridge resulting in the Second Temple, seen right here within the decrease, left nook.

Christopher Chan | Second | Getty Photos

What vacationers can see

To achieve the brand new areas, guests descend staircases which might be like a journey by way of time, Carlin instructed CNBC.

“Whenever you dig down, you actually go down by way of historical past,” stated Carlin. “Every layer represents completely different components of historical past and completely different centuries.”

A portion of the steps used to succeed in the newly excavated areas.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

“You go right down to the Ottoman interval, the Muslim interval, the Crusader interval … all the best way right down to the Herodian interval,” he stated, referencing the reign of King Herod and his heirs, from 37 B.C. to 73 C.E.

Assist beams reinforce the hallway between the 2 chambers of the traditional underground constructing.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Archeologists knew one chamber existed, however excavations uncovered a bigger constructing with two an identical rooms separated by a courtyard.

The constructing could have been a metropolis council constructing, stated Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, excavation director on the Israel Antiquities Authority, in a press launch revealed by the Israel Ministry of Tourism in August. She known as the excavated space “probably the most magnificent public buildings from the Second Temple interval that has ever been uncovered.”

One in every of two chambers of a constructing found exterior the Western Wall.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Historians imagine the chambers had been reception rooms for dignitaries, rich guests and members of the excessive priesthood, stated Carlin.

They might even have been locations to eat. Archaeologists imagine that the rooms as soon as contained reclining sofas, the place individuals would eat mendacity down, as was widespread within the Greek, Hellenistic and Roman eras, in keeping with Weksler-Bdolah.

“It’s extremely opulent — these had been large chambers with large ornamental components of water flowing,” stated Carlin. “It shows the affluence of that space on the time … and the individuals who had been greeted there.”

The second excavated chamber, which is constructed utilizing arched stone ceilings.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Archeologists discovered a small ritual purification pool, known as a mikvah, which monks and aristocrats possible used earlier than visiting the Second Temple.

“These are the steps taking place” into the pool, he stated, which “normally could be stuffed with water introduced from springs.”

Steps main right into a purification pool, or mikvah, which is believed to have been added a few years after the excavated constructing was constructed.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

The mikvah would not be open to the general public, stated Carlin. Members of most of the people cleansed themselves within the Pool of Siloam, positioned a few third of a mile away. That’s the similar pool the place Jesus was stated to have restored the eyesight of a blind man, as referenced within the Gospel of John within the Christian Bible. 

The room with the mikvah was a part of an “elite gateway” into the Second Temple, stated Israel Ministry of Tourism’s Eyal Carlin.

Israel Antiquities Authority

Previous the baths, guests can see the muse stones of the Western Wall, stated Carlin. The stones are huge, with some weighing upwards of 250 tons.

Jerusalem is, in components a minimum of, a metropolis constructed on prime of different cities. Current buildings turned basements or underground dwelling areas for brand new development constructed on prime, in keeping with an article in The Times of Israel.

Hallways contained ornate pilasters, or decorative columns, that had been topped with Corinthian capitals with water pipes constructed inside them.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

That is why components of the underground buildings had been discovered utterly intact. Ornamental components “had been discovered complete,” stated Carlin. “There have been components that had been chipped, however the components we see weren’t reconstructed.”

Excavations are ongoing in Jerusalem, however many do not open for excursions, stated Carlin.

“There’s nice pleasure as a result of [this area] is accessible to most of the people,” he stated. “It is also shedding gentle on what life was again then in probably the most vital intervals of the Jewish individuals.”

Touring the brand new space

Guests can see the brand new underground areas by way of guided excursions booked by way of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, a non-profit governmental physique that manages the Western Wall.

The opening, which was initially set for August, was rescheduled to coincide with the celebration of Hannukah in early December, stated Carlin.

The ornate stays of the constructing positioned exterior the Western Wall, or “Wailing Wall.” The latter time period is falling out of favor, as some deem it as making gentle of the Jewish group’s mourning over the lack of the Second Temple.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

He stated that is “good timing” in additional methods than one.

“If all the things goes in keeping with plan this week or early subsequent week, and our authorities approves the reentry of vacationers to Israel … that may really coincide when the vast majority of the world can … journey to Israel.”

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