Wall dating to Second Temple unearthed
Sep. 3, 2008
Etgar Lefkovits , THE JERUSALEM POST

The remains of the southern wall of Jerusalem that was built by the Hasmonean kings during the time of the Second Temple have been uncovered on Mount Zion, the Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The 2,100-year-old wall, which was destroyed during the Great Revolt against the Romans that began in 66 CE, is located just outside the present-day walls of the Old City and abuts the Catholic cemetery built in the last century where Righteous Gentile Oskar Schindler is buried.

The sturdy wall, which is believed to have run 6 km. around Jerusalem, was previously exposed by an American archeologist at the end of the 19th century, the state run archeological body said.

The Israeli archeologist who started the ongoing excavation a year- and-a-half ago also uncovered the remains of a city wall from the Byzantine Period (324-640 CE) that was built on top of the Second Temple wall at a time when ancient Jerusalem reached its largest size after its southward expansion.

"In the Second Temple period the city, with the Temple at its center, was a focal point for Jewish pilgrimage from all over the ancient world, and in the Byzantine period it attracted Christian pilgrims who came in the footsteps of the story of the life and death of their messiah," said Yehiel Zelinger, the excavation's director.

He said the builders of the Byzantine wall were unaware of the existence of the earlier structure, yet they placed their wall precisely along the same route due to its advantageous location for the defense of the city.

The Second Temple Period wall, which was built without mortar, was "amazingly" well-preserved today to the height of three meters, more than 2,000 years after it was constructed, Zelinger said.

He voiced the hope that the First Temple wall would be uncovered next.

The excavation was initiated as part of a plan to build a promenade along the southern side of Mount Zion.

The promenade, which is expected to become a major tourist attraction when it is completed in the next few years, will run alongside parts of the newly exposed ancient wall.

The ancient walls were found by cross-referencing the detailed plans and maps of an excavation carried out in the 1890s by the Palestine Exploration Fund under the direction of archeologist Frederick Jones Bliss and his assistant Archibald Dickie with updated maps of the area.

"We knew that the walls were here somewhere but we didn't know exactly where," Zelinger said.

During the dig, the Israeli archeologists also found "souvenirs" left behind by the 19th century excavators: a laborer's shoes, the top of a gas light that was used to illuminate the tunnels, and fragments of Czech beer and wine bottles from 120 years ago.

The site, which will be open the public in the coming years, will be accessible to visitors for a sneak preview late on Thursday afternoon ahead of an archeological conference being held that evening at the nearby City of David.

The dig was carried out with the financial support of the City of David Foundation, which aims to settle Jews throughout east Jerusalem.

"This is one of the most beautiful and complete sections of construction in the Hasmonean building style to be found in Jerusalem," Zelinger said.