This tour takes us on a journey to the beginnings of the Jerusalem, to the city of David, Solomon and the Kings of Judah, at the center of which stood the Holy Temple – the spiritual heart of the Jewish people.
In the City of David, the ancient nucleus of Jerusalem, the tribes of Israel united to form a single people. Most of the books of the Bible were written in its courtyards and alleyways, and it inspired the dissemination of the belief in one God.
Our tour route will take us among the ruins of Jerusalem’s magnificent past from the First and Second Temple Periods, remains that tell the story of an ancient city.
We begin our tour at the Dung Gate, 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 gates leading into the city during the Return to Zion (538 BCE).
At that time this was the gate used to remove the ash and rubbish from the Temple, which was 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 reunification of Jerusalem additional renovations were made. Remains of First Temple Jerusalem can be found outside the walls of the Old City.
The beginnings of a capital – City of David National Park
David the son of Jesse, the shepherd from Bethlehem who went on to become a King of Israel, conquered the Jebusite city and made it the capital of his kingdom. Prior to David’s conquest, Jerusalem covered an area of about 60 dunams (60,000 sq. m.), and the source of its water was the Gihon Spring.
The city was bordered by the Kidron Valley in the east, and the Central Valley (near the Dung Gate) to the west. With David’s conquest Jerusalem became the capital city of the unified kingdom. Later on, the First Temple was built on the top of Mt. Moriah by David’s son, King Solomon, and the city expanded northward.
When Solomon’s son Rechavam ascended to the throne the kingdom split and Jerusalem was now
the capital only of the Kingdom of Judah.
About 200 years later, at the end of the 9th century BCE, Senacherib king of Assyria laid siege to the city. During that period, in the reign of King Hezekiah, the city also expanded westward and the hill that is known today as “Mt. Zion” became part of the city of Jerusalem. Hezekiah prepared for the siege by fortifying the city and by digging a water tunnel. Indeed, the Assyrian armies retreated, Jerusalem was saved and continued to survive for about another 120 years, until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE.
Hills surround it – A view from the rooftop of the Upper Observation Point
From here we can look out onto the mountain ridges that surround the City of David, as is stated in Psalms: “Jerusalem – hills surround it…” (125 2). To the south is the Armon HaNatziv ridge. To the north is Mt. Moriah, the site of the Binding of Isaac and the Holy Temple. Mt. Zion is to the west, which also includes the area of the present Jewish Quarter.
Across from us, to the east, is the panorama of the Kidron Valley, the eastern boundary of the City of David, and the Mount of Olives ridge with the Jewish cemetery on its slope. This was Jerusalem’s burial ground during the First and Second Temple periods.
In the cliff that faces us, beneath the houses of the village of Silwan (Shiloah), we can see carved rectangular openings. These are the openings of burial caves belonging to Jerusalem’s dignitaries and wealthy residents during the First Temple Period. In the upper portion of the Kidron Valley there are also burial monuments from the Second Temple, the most famous of which is “Yad Avshalom” (Absalom’s Tomb).
The Visitor Center plaza
We are standing at the highest point within the City of David. Excavations conducted at the site
under the direction of Dr. Eilat Mazar exposed, right at our feet, remains of a large and impressive public building that has been dated to the time of David and Solomon, and this just might be the king’s own palace.
Also discovered here were two bullae, clay impressions used to seal letters and documents, bearing the names of Yehochal ben Shlamiah and Gedaliah ben Pashchur – ministers of Judah that are mentioned in the book of Jeremiah as those who threw the prophet into the pit because of his prophecies.
Inscriptions from the past – Area G and the Royal Quarter
Various layers of houses in the city of Jerusalem were constructed at different periods of time on
this slope of the hillside. Remains of the most ancient building exposed here was an enormous stepped structure, which formed a support wall for a public building that stood at the top of the hill.
At the end of the First Temple Period residences were built on top of the wall. In a house with a
colonnaded courtyard in its center, archaeologists discovered two pieces of pottery with the name “Ahi’el,” and today this is referred to as the “House of Ahi’el.”
In one of the rooms of the house we can see a stone with a round opening – a First Temple Period toilet seat, evidence of the family’s wealth. Adjacent to the House of Ahi’el they found remains that included arrowheads and burnt furnishings, attesting to the tremendous conflagration that spread throughout Jerusalem during its destruction by the Babylonians.
In the building underneath the path we are standing on, a collection of more than 50 bullae (seals) were discovered bearing names written in ancient Hebrew script. One of them contained the name Gemaryahu ben Shafan, a name mentioned in the Bible as the scribe of King Yehoyakim.
The bullae were found complete but burned, without the letters to which they would have been
attached. The letters were apparently burned in the fire that swept through the house during the destruction, but the stamps on the bullae, which were made of mud, were hardened and thus were well preserved.
Tunnels and the “tzinnor” – Warren’s Shaft
In the fall of 1867, British explorer Charles Warren climbed from the Gihon Spring up a vertical shaft more than 13 meters high. From the top of the shaft he continued to ascend a winding tunnel that led to the edge of the ancient city.
For many years the shaft, which is known as “Warren’s Shaft,” was identified as a major part of the ancient water system and it was commonly explained that this is where the ancient Jerusalemites would come to lower their buckets in order to draw water from the spring that was hidden inside the mountain.
Others even made a connection between the shaft and the Biblical “tzinnor” claiming that David’s men must have climbed up the shaft in order to conquer the city from the Jebusites: “And David took the stronghold of Zion; which is the city of David.
And David said on that day: “Whosoever smiteth the Jebusites, and getteth up to the shaft (tzinnor)…” (Samuel II, 5:7-8). In fact, the shaft system was dug in two stages: The tunnel was dug during the Canaanite Period and was used as a safe passageway from the city to the pool that was fed by the waters of the spring. Later, during the time of King Hezekiah, the floor of the ancient tunnel was lowered for some unknown reason.
At the time of the digging the natural shaft was discovered. The edges of the water pool from the Canaanite Period, hewn into the bedrock, are located near the exit from the water system. The pool was fed by the waters of the Gihon Spring, and to the east we can also see remains of a fortification tower constructed of large stones.
A source of living waters – the Gihon Spring
Beneath us flows the Gihon Spring, which was a source of fresh water for the ancient city of Jerusalem. Its waters were brought to the fields through a canal that was dug during the Canaanite Period. The waters were used for drinking, irrigation and religious ritual.
It was here that King Solomon was anointed, and the priests from the Second Temple used the spring’s waters for the Water Libation ceremonies during the Sukkot holiday. However the spring wasn’t only a source of blessing – it was also the city’s weak spot when facing its enemies.
At this point visitors have two options: You can walk through the Canaanite irrigation channel (it is dry) and reach the Shiloah Pool via the Upper Promenade, or you can walk through the chilly waters of Hezekiah’s Tunnel.
A visit to Hezekiah’s Tunnel requires appropriate attire for walking through water and the use of flashlights (which may be purchased at the site).
The story of the tunnel – Hezekiah’s Tunnel
Hezekiah’s tunnel is an impressive engineering feat that continues for 533 meters at a slight incline. The tunnel was dug by King Hezekiah as part of his preparations for Jerusalem’s defense against the Assyrian siege at the end of the 8th century BCE: “…This same Hezekiah also stopped the upper spring of the waters of Gihon, and brought them straight down on the west side of the city of David…” (Chronicles II, 32:30).
Thanks to the tunnel Jerusalem’s residents were ensured a steady flow of water during times of siege, and thus Hezekiah diverted the waters of the Gihon, which flowed outside the city’s walls, into a pool he installed in the southern part of the city. The tunnel was dug by two groups of laborers who started working from either end and dug towards one another.
Approximately six meters from the end of the tunnel we can see on the wall to the left a copy of the Shiloah Inscription that describes how the diggers from both sides of the tunnel met and completed this complex engineering operation. We exit the tunnel and arrive and the remains of a Byzantine pool known as the Siloam (“Shiloah”) Pool.
The broken columns we seen in the pool are from the Siloam Church that was built above the pool by the Byzantine empress Eudocia in the 5th century. We exit the pool and descend a stairway that leads to the remains of a Second Temple Period street.
A city street – the Herodian Road
This street, which was built at the end of the Second Temple Period, is the continuation of a paved street that connected the pool and the Temple Mount, and remains of the street were found along the Western Wall.
A canal that was dug and covered with hewn stones was discovered beneath the paving stones of the street, which was used to draw off rain water from the higher sections of the city. The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius reports that during the siege of Jerusalem during the Great Revolt against the Romans, Jews would hide from the Romans inside these drainage canals.
The Siloam Pool
We are standing at the edge of the Siloam (Shiloah) Pool from the Second Temple Period. It is possible that underneath the remains of this pool we would find remains of the pool built by King Hezekiah into which the waters from Hezekiah’s Tunnel drained. The pool and the street that leads to it are indicative of a splendid and prosperous city to which thousands of pilgrims would throng during the Second Temple Period.
An illustration on the wall incorporated into the excavations helps us to imagine the sight of the pool and the pilgrims.
The Jerusalem Archaeological Park – Davidson Center
From the plaza at the site entrance we can view 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.
Above the street is a mural that catches our eyes 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 French-based urban art production studio, Citè de la Creation.
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.
As we exit the lobby and step out into the courtyard, we are looking at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. We can see the enormous support walls 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 these walls.
We descend the street to the foot of the Western Wall.
Along the length of the Western Wall a paved street was exposed, which was used by pilgrims on
their way to visit the Holy Temple. 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 Templeworship. 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 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. Over the street there was a large archway. Its remains were identified in the 19th century by the American explorer Edward Robinson, 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.
We proceed to the covered shed in the center of the park. Here were discovered the remains of a large palace (one of four in the entire complex), which was part of the Islamic royal center some 1,300 years ago. At the western edge of the palace archaeologists discovered a Roman lavatory, as well as a synagogue that dates back to the early Islamic period (around 700 CE).
We exit through the opening in the Ottoman wall.
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. Standing on the Hulda staircase 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 their visit to the Holy Temple.
We retrace our steps and enter the Davidson Visitor Center, which has on display various finds
from the archaeological park as well as the latest in multimedia presentations and simulations.
42 Ma’aleh, HaShalom, 02-6277550, Sun.-Thur., 8:00-17:00, Fri., holiday eves,8:00-14:00, Entrance fee
We exit towards the prayer plaza of the Western Wall.
The Western Wall (The “Kotel”) – prayer plaza
We are standing 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 originally been built by the Returnees to Zion from Babylon.
The original height of the Western 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 a 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.
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 spaces 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.
A visit to the site introduces visitors to Jerusalem’s magnificent past during the Second Temple Period and presents interesting finds from this period.
*5958, Sun.-Thurs., 7:00 until the evening , Fri. 8:00-12:00, Entrance fee, Reservations required
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.
*5958, Sun.-Thurs., 7:00 until the last reservation, Fri. 8:00-12:00, Entrance fee, Reservations required