Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

While Jerusalem Day Is Celebrated Above Ground, Archaeological Discoveries Reveal City’s Layers

May 8, 2013 2:10 am 6 comments

The Jerusalem Archaeological Park - Davidson Center. Photo: Nemo/Wikimedia Commons.

Tens of thousands will visit the Old City on May 8 for Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War. While celebrations go on above ground, new excavations underneath and around the Old City are being uncovered and opened to the public, peeling back layers of history and expanding understanding of events in the center of the Jewish universe.

Old City expert Rabbi Barnea Selevan, a veteran licensed tour guide and co-director of Foundation Stone, is excited about a series of archeological digs taking place in the vicinity of the Western Wall. For the past several years, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation has sponsored excavations at the back of the plaza, and workers have uncovered part of a Roman colonnaded street dating back to the 2nd century C.E.

But what was ignored until recently, according to Selevan, are several small stone buildings, overgrown and blocked by material from the dig.

“When I look down from the street in front of the Chabad building several levels above the site, those old walls are the most exciting thing I see,” Selevan tells “There’s no question they’re from First Temple times.” Seals from the Temple were found nearby. The walls, according to some archeologists, are from homes that were abandoned but not destroyed by the Roman onslaught on Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

Selevan notes that the streets exposed at the back of the plaza lead to the Temple Mount in the Robinson’s Arch area and provide evidence that the Romans stayed in Jerusalem and used the Temple Mount during the early Roman period.

Plans call for further excavations underneath the plaza and then to open the underground area, much as the Western Wall tunnels have been open to the public since the 1990s. Selevan says that excavations are continuing in the tunnel area too, and beautiful rooms with ornate capitols from First and Second Temple times are being prepared to be open to the public.

In today’s Jewish Quarter that lies above the Western Wall Plaza, Selevan recounts the “delicious” discovery of a “fancy Roman bathouse” two stories underground on Ha’omer Street, that was found in the course of construction of a new mikveh (ritual bath) for men. “In all likelihood, the bathhouse was used by the Roman 10th Legion—the same guys who thought they were wiping out the Jews,” he says.

Dr. Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, reveals that despite the extensive archaeological excavations in the Jewish Quarter, so far not even one building has been discovered there that belonged to the Roman legion.

“The absence of such a find led to the conclusion that Aelia Capitolina, the Roman city established after the destruction of Jerusalem, was small and limited in area,” he tells

“The new find, together with other discoveries of recent years, shows that the city was considerably larger than we previously estimated,” Baruch says. “Information about Aelia Capitolina is extremely valuable and can contribute greatly to research on Jerusalem because it was that city that determined the character and general appearance of ancient Jerusalem and [the city’s appearance] as we know it today. The shape of the city has determined the outline of its walls and the location of the gates to this very day.”

The trauma of the Roman plunder of Jerusalem is heavily evidenced at several locations in the City of David, located a few hundred yards from the Western Wall to the southeast of the Dung Gate.

Aharon Horowitz, Director of Megalim, the Institute of Jerusalem Studies of the City of David, points out that the drainage channel underneath the Herodian-era street in what is known as the Pilgrims Ascent area of the City of David was used by Jews hiding from the Romans. A Roman sword was found in the channel.

According to University of Haifa archaeologist Ronny Reich, who has worked in the area for decades, the smashed paving stones indicate that the Romans broke through the street to the channel below to drag out the Jews who tried to flee toward the Kidron Valley in the last days of the siege.

Over the past year, the ascent has been opened and visitors can walk along the Herodian Road to the southern wall excavations at The Jerusalem Archaeological Park – Davidson Center.

Across the road from the City of David Visitors Center is the Givati Parking Lot site, the largest archeological excavation in Jerusalem. “Every day there are new finds here,” Horowitz tells “There are remains here of every strata of Jerusalem history.”

One of the most magnificent is the floor of a building considered by some experts to be the 1st-century palace of Queen Helena of Adiabene, who converted to Judaism. A huge Roman mansion from the 3rd century was also uncovered in the former parking lot, and hundreds of Roman and Byzantine artifacts have been unearthed inside, including a gold earring inlaid with pearls and stones. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently chose a facsimile of the earrings to present to American First Lady Michelle Obama when she visited Israel with her husband.

Besides the digs and excavations below today’s city, significant conservation and restoration has been completed on the Old City walls in recent years. Over the past six years, the Jerusalem Development Company, Prime Minister’s Office and Israel Antiquities Authority have completed sprucing up and restoring all four kilometers of the city walls erected in the 16th century by Sultan Suleiman, and all seven gates of the Old City. The last time any rehabilitation work was done on the walls was in the 1920s, during the British Mandate period.

A tiny button-sized object of fired clay stamped with a two-line Aramaic inscription meaning "Pure for God," one of the most intriguing archaeological finds of recent years in Israel. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

Last October, a delegation from the Jewish National Fund of Canada dedicated a park containing restoration of the grounds in front of a stretch of the Old City wall, south of Jaffa Gate.

At the ceremony, Shuka Dorfman, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority noted, “These impressive walls attest to the building and destruction of seven different regimes, and include remnants from the First Temple Period. Our preservation activities concentrated on the park’s main promenade and on the antiquities along the wall.” Today, visitors can walk along an accessible path along the wall between Jaffa Gate and Zion Gate, touch the ancient stones, and peer into the small caves dotted along the base of the wall.

Other discoveries of a much smaller nature will end up in museum displays, but still tell a story about Jewish life in Temple times. A tiny button-sized object of fired clay stamped with a two-line Aramaic inscription is one of the most intriguing finds of recent years.

According to archeologists Eli Shukron of the IAA and Ronny Reich, the meaning of the inscription is “Pure for God.” Like a modern-day kashrut seal, the object was probably used to mark products or objects that were brought to the Temple and had to be ritually pure.

“This stamped impression is probably the kind referred to in the Mishnah,” Shukron and Reich said. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that such an object or anything similar to it was discovered in an archaeological excavation, and it constitutes direct archaeological evidence of the activity on the Temple Mount and the workings of the Temple during the Second Temple period.”

Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C. His latest book is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.”


  • Awsome keep up the Lords work. Jerusalem belongs to Gods chosen people.

  • There IS proof… Baruch Haba BaShem Adonai.

  • I pray that the deed that Jeremiah buried in a small earthen vessel be discovered that proves that all this area did belong to the tribes of Israel.

  • Nadene van Staden

    I think it is wonderful that all these artifacts are being discovered and this only goes to prove that Israel belongs to the Jews and nobody else.God wil never allow Israel to be devided.
    My prayers as always are with Israel

    • All these excavations are illegal conducted in occupied territories. They aim at creating false stories related to the historical right of the Israelis in the land and destroying the archaeological heritage of the Arab Christian and Moslem communities who lived in the land for many centuries and they are still there. This aim of Israeli archaeology is confirmed by a number of Israeli and international archaeologist.

      • The land YHWH gave to the ancient Israelites belongs to Him. It is the same land that He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The twelve sons of Jacob formed the twelve tribes and the land was divided up amongst them. Moses was specifically instructed that the land could not be sold because this land belongs to YHWH.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →