Highlights include: the Western Wall, the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden – Davidson Center and the Hulda Steps.
Jews who were exiled by the Babylonians in the early 6th century BCE were allowed to return home by Cyrus, king of the new Persian power, fifty years later.
The reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, completed in 516 BCE, is usually regarded as the beginning of the Second Temple Period.
For five centuries, Jerusalem was ruled by various foreign empires; but for a short period of 80 years, between the Hellenistic and the Roman regimes, the country achieved independence under its own Hasmonean royal house.
The era came to an abrupt end with the Roman destruction of the Temple and the entire city in the year 70 CE.
Jerusalem was at its height towards the end of this period. King Herod transformed the city. Its streets were paved, magnificent public buildings were built, and Jerusalem pulsed with life. The massive renovation and expansion of the Temple was the crowning glory of King Herod’s many construction projects. The tens of thousands of pilgrims who came to Jerusalem, the spiritual center of the Jewish people, were astonished by the beauty of the Temple and the splendor of what was widely admired as the most splendid city of the East.
On this tour we will become acquainted with the remains of the monumental construction around the Temple Mount.
Please note: Parts of the tour are difficult for motorized wheel chairs. The elevators in the Archaeological Park are not suitable for motorized wheel chairs. The assistance of a physically fit helper is essential.
The Western Wall (The “Kotel”)
We are now in front of the Western Wall (Kotel HaMa’aravi), one of the enormous support walls used to support the Temple Mount plaza. The walls and the plaza were built in the 1st century CE by King Herod when he expanded and renovated the Second Temple that had been originally built by the Returnees to Zion from Babylon. The original height of the wall was about 30 meters, and it was about half a kilometer long.
The Temple Mount plaza is built on Mt. Moriah, the holiest site for the Jewish people. Here, according to Jewish tradition, the world was created and this is where Abraham came to sacrifice Isaac. It is here that King Solomon built the First Temple approximately 3,000 years ago, and where the Returnees to Zion from Babylon built the Second Temple.
Following the destruction of the Second Temple, the mountain remained desolate, and when Jerusalem was conquered by the Muslims they built the impressive structures that are still visible today – the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Starting in the 16th century the Western Wall was used as a place of worship for the Jews, a symbol of their longing and yearning for the Holy Temple. There was only a narrow lane at the foot of the Western Wall, and this is where the Jews crowded in their efforts to get as close to the holy site as possible.
In the years when Jerusalem was divided (1948 – 1967) access to the Western Wall was forbidden. Many Jews came to Mt. Zion to King David’s Tomb in order to gaze at the Temple Mount from the rooftop – with the hope in their hearts of some day returning to the Western Wall to pray.
Following the Six Day War the Western Wall Plaza was constructed and it is now used as place where people come to pray, assemble and to conduct religious and national ceremonies Once again masses of people flock to the Wall, and it has become a central focus for the Jewish people.
To the left of the plaza, is the entrance to the Western Wall tunnels. At the site you can see the entire length of the Western Wall and the enormous stones from which it is constructed. In the underground and the narrow passageways – which were used in the past as water cisterns or storage rooms for homes in the Old City – the courses of the Western Wall stones are revealed to us.
You can see an audio-visual presentation of the archaeological finds there, and a new exhibit called “The Chain of Generations Center.” At this site we are introduced to the history of the Jewish people throughout the generations. The center is divided into different chambers, each one depicting another link in the Jewish nation’s chain of generations through works of art made out of layers of glass, layers that create an illusion of texture, color and form which presents 3,500 years of Jewish history.
Please note: The Western Wall tunnels and “The Chain of Generations Center” are accessible. There is an entrance fee and prior reservation is required.
(www.thekotel.org Tel: 02-6271333)
Exit the Western Wall Plaza through the southern security check point, in the direction of Dung Gate. We stop at Dung Gate and remain within the city walls.
Please note: The road is very steep, and assistance from a physically fit helper is necessary.
The Dung Gate
This is one of the gates in the walls of Jerusalem that were built in the 16th century by the city’s Ottoman ruler, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The book of Nehemiah mentions the Dung Gate – one of the gates leading into the city during the Return to Zion (538 BCE). At that time, this was the gate used to remove ash and rubbish from the Temple, which were then thrown into the Kidron Valley.
Originally the gate was nothing more than a narrow doorway in the wall, but it was enlarged during the Jordanian rule (1948 – 1967) to allow vehicles to enter. Following the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, additional renovations were made.
At the Dung Gate turn right and right again to the entrance to the Jerusalem Archeological Park – Davidson Center.
From the plaza at the site entrance we can view the remains of the eastern Cardo, a street from the Byzantine period which connects the Damascus Gate in the north with the Siloam Pool
in the south.
Before entering the site, look at the spectacular mural painting that reconstructs life on the street two thousand years ago – and the ancient paving stones right beneath it.
The Mural Painting – Life in the Cardo: The Tanners’ Gate Square
Above the street is a huge mural painting that catches our eye and appears to be real – it describes the way the street may have looked in the past.
This work of art is part of a project initiated by the Jerusalem Municipality in conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism, and was carried out by a Frenchbased urban art production studio, Cite de la Creation.
The Roman paving stones below it were part of the eastern Cardo, one of the main arteries of Roman Jerusalem. As shown clearly on the 6th century Madaba mosaic map, it began at today’s Damascus Gate, and crossed the city from north to south. The mural painting depicts a crowded market street, pulsing with life and the cries of merchants peddling their wares.
We go down to the small square. The entrance to the site is on the righthand side.
The Jerusalem Archaeological
Park Davidson Center
The Jerusalem Archaeological Park – Davidson Center lies at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The site houses a wealth of finds from various historical periods of Jerusalem’s history, but its real importance has to do with artifacts from the Second Temple Period.
Look at Jerusalem timeline on the wall to your right. The timeline reveals the important chapters in the history of Jerusalem, beginning with the first inhabitants some 5,000 years ago.
Three thousand years ago the Canaanite city was conquered by King David. That was the beginning of the period of the First Temple, built by King Solomon.
The First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. Two generations later, Jews returned to the city and the Second Temple period began, which continued until the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. The high point of this period was King Herod’s expansion and renovation of the Second Temple. Many remnants of which can be seen on the site.
Turn slightly to the left to see a group of pictures of the site in various periods. The top picture shows the site at the end of the 19th century. After Jerusalem’s unification, renewed excavation of the site began along with development of the archaeological park.
As you come out of the entrance hall, turn left on the path to reach the special elevators.
You can get all the way to the observation deck overlooking the archaeological site – the southern extension of the Western Wall and Robinson’s Arch.
Please note: The use of the elevators has to be arranged at the entrance to the site.
The elevators are not accessible for motorized wheel chairs.
Viewing Robinson’s Arch
In front of us is the southern extension of the Western Wall. We are looking at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. We can see the enormous support wall built by King Herod when he renovated the Holy Temple. To accomplish this he built the Temple Mount plaza that was supported by these gigantic walls.
The Western Wall, to which we attribute a special sanctity, is one of those walls. Along the length of the Western Wall a paved street was exposed, which was used by pilgrims on their way to the Holy Temple. Over the street there was a large archway. Its remains were identified in the 19th century by the American explorer Edward Robison and it is named after him. Beneath Robinson’s Arch archaeologists found numerous ritual baths (mikvehs) that were used by the pilgrims to cleanse themselves prior to entering the Temple Mount.
An exciting archaeological find that was discovered along the southern wall is the monumental Hulda staircase that led to the Hulda Gates and onto the Temple Mount. Excavations at the end of the 20th century showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Robinson’s Arch was part of an overpass above a paved street.
Visitors to the Temple Mount would ascend the magnificent staircase it supported. From here you can get a sense of the magnitude of Herod’s project, which utilized Roman construction techniques and sophisticated engineering methods.
Continue to another elevator, and a view of the ancient paved street that runs along the foot of the wall.
Please note: This site is not accessible for motorized wheel chairs.
Viewing the Paved Street
Beneath us are the remnants of a paved street built at the end of the Second Temple period, used by pilgrims on their way to visit the Holy Temple. Sections of this street were discovered in the excavations of the City of David to the south, and in the Western Wall Tunnels to the north.
The street began at the northern extremity of the Western Wall. Four gates connected it with the Temple Mount in ancient times, two at street level and two at a much higher level, like the gate on the top of Robinson’s Arch. Along the street there was a row of shops that apparently served as a bazaar selling merchandise for sacrifices and offerings, as well as other goods used in Temple worship.
These shops were destroyed when the city was devastated on the 9th of Av in the year 70 CE. The street itself is covered with piles of large building stones that fell from the Temple Mount complex at the time of the destruction. Archaeologists removed most of the stones, but a few of them can still be seen where they fell.
A beautifully cut corner-stone discovered on this street carries a Hebrew inscription, translated as “the place of trumpeting”. Scholars believe it tumbled from the upper corner of the gigantic walls above us during the destruction of 70 CE. Apparently it was the spot from which a priest would blow a trumpet or a ram’s horn to announce that the Sabbath or a holy day was about to begin.
We return to the entrance to the park. Just before you reach it, on your left, is the innovative Davidson Visitors Center, which exhibits archaeological finds, and offers visual aids and two films. A short film on a monitor tells about the archaeological excavation of the site over the years. The longer one, in the auditorium, follows a Jewish pilgrim to the Temple in ancient times.
The films continuously alternate between English and Hebrew. A particularly interesting attraction is the interactive, computer-generated reconstruction of the Temple area in antiquity.
Please note: There is an entrance fee and prior reservation is required.
(www.pami.co.il Tel: 02-6277550)
As we leave the Visitors Center, turn right to the distinctive pergola in the middle of the park. The Umayyad palaces
We are now in the center of a small paved plaza. Before you is the Temple Mount. You can see the al-Aqsa Mosque from here.
This point marks another era in Jerusalem – the period of Islam – which began in 638 CE with the conquest of the city from the Byzantines by the Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab. According to Islamic tradition, the Caliph honored the city by coming to accept the surrender of the Byzantine rulers.
Upon entering the city, he was respectfully led to the Temple Mount, cleaned the sacred rock with his robe and prayed there to Allah.
The Temple Mount is identified in Muslim tradition as the place of the ‘farthest mosque’, Al-Aqsa, to which Mohammed arrived on his night journey astride the wondrous creature al-Burak, which was part horse and part winged woman. The Umayyad dynasty, which ruled the Muslim world from Damascus from the mid-seventh century to the mid-eighth century, turned Jerusalem into a destination for pilgrimage and built the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. Here, at the foot of the Temple Mount, the Umayyads built four palaces, which became their government center. You are in the center of one of these palaces. Around you are the remains of the palace walls, built out of Herodian stones taken from older structures and reused. The cypress trees symbolize the rows of columns that surrounded the open courtyard of one of the palaces.
From here, you can also see the walls of the Old City, built by the Ottomans in the middle of the 16th century. The walls were built on the line of the outer wall of the palace, and it makes a 90 degree turn toward the Temple Mount.
We continue towards the eastern part of the site, passing through a gate in the wall and stopping at the steps going up to the southern wall.
The Hulda Staircase
You are now at the steps going up to the southern wall. In Second Temple times, pilgrims would ascend to the Temple from here. That is how this area got its biblical name ‘Ophel’ which comes from a Hebrew word for ascent. Many ritual baths found in this area were used by the pilgrims for purification.
In order to reach the eastern part of this site, archaeologists created a small gate in the Ottoman wall. Beyond the gate, we get a fine view of the 2,000-year-old southern steps, the monumental Hulda Staircase that led to the Hulda Gates and onto the Temple Mount. We can easily comprehend the power of the experience as masses of pilgrims came here with a sense of emotion and expectancy in anticipation of the visit to the Holy Temple.
The staircase is built of alternating wide and narrow steps. This was apparently done to slow down the ascent of the excited pilgrims.
The triple gate on your right was an entrance. If you look at the point where the Old City wall meets the southern wall, you will notice part of a lintel. That was the location of the double gate, which was an exit. The gate complex as a whole was called the Hulda Gates.
Here our tour comes to an end. Return through the gate, and exit the Jerusalem Archaeological Park via the original entrance.
You can also continue your visit to the Old City with tour # 4, The Temple Mount compound, which begins at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park – Davidson Center.