|1.||Old City Walls|
|2.||The Nea Church|
|3.||Ophel Excavations / Davidson Center|
|5.||Solomon's Quarry / Zedekiah's Cave|
|6.||Herod's Gate / Burj al-Laklak|
|7.||Little Western Wall / Hakotel Hakatan|
|9.||Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif|
|10.||Western Wall Plaza|
|11.||Church of the Holy Sepulchre|
In 2010, in a publicity short for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), CEO Shuka Dorfman notes that the breadth of excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem over the past five-six years was unprecedented: “we are digging (in the Old City) as no one has dug for 150 years.” This includes digs in open sites, digging of tunnels and reconstruction and preservation work.
Though the archaeological digs in the 60’s and 70’s of the past century were the most extensive and prolonged to date, the IAA CEO’s statement, even if exaggerated, is in accord with government plans from 2005 to develop the historical basin of Jerusalem for tourism. The State of Israel and the Jerusalem Municipality have allotted over 620 NIS (480 NIS from the government, 144 NIS from the city) to develop tourism and archaeology in this area from 2005-2013. In 2008 alone, 50 million NIS were spent for these purposes, and it appears that similar sums were expended in later years.
This document delineates the main archaeological sites that have been preserved or developed over the past year, and sites of socio-political significance. Following the description of these sites, we offer an analysis of the socio-political effects of the digs in the Old City. Alongside scientific archaeological digs, the authorities have been carrying on wide-spread digging of tunnels and underground grottos. Information on the underground digs can be found in the Jerusalem Underground chapter.
Archaeological digs in the historical basin of the Old City of Jerusalem were begun some 150 years ago, under the leadership of European researchers such as Conrad Schick, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, and others. These digs covered small areas in the Old City (mostly Church lands), areas adjacent to the walls and gates of the Old City, or open areas such as The Ophel (the Ophel Archeological Park, below the southern wall of the Temple Mount), the Tower of David (the Citadel), and more. Extensive digging in the Old City began at the end of the 1960’s (after the 1967 Six-Day War) and has continued to this day. From the perspective of the State of Israel, archaeology in the Old City was seen as part of the research into the identity of the Jewish People and their bond to the land. While archaeological studies were carried on scientifically, and various layers of different periods were dug up, many researchers identified their work with the drive to discover, study and even prove the past of the Jewish People in Jerusalem. Many of the sites that were dug and made available to the public are under state and municipal control; the remaining sites are under the auspices of churches and the Islamic Waqf. Responsibility for the sites is divided between these bodies.
Two of the most extensive digs in the Old City are the Ophel Excavations south of the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif, and to the west, the excavations in the Jewish Quarter. The Ophel Excavations project, run by Benjamin Mazar, were begun in 1968 and completed in 1978. The area flanks the southern wall and part of the western boundary of the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif. The excavations of the Jewish Quarter were run by Nahman Avigad from 1969-1982. Both were academically sponsored by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. While excavations in the “Ophel” were concentrated in a single, extended site, those in the Jewish Quarter took place in a great number of sites dispersed throughout the area. The third largest archaeological site is that of David’s Tower, contiguous to the Jaffa gate. This site was dug several times over the 20th Century.
Most of the structures in the Old City were built in the last few centuries over older layers. Immediately after the 1967 Six-Day-War, the Old City was declared an antiquities site, so that any building activity, even enlarging a doorway, entails obtaining permits from the Antiquities Authority. Consequently, the IAA is involved in all development and building work there. The IAA runs dozens of excavations in the historic basin of Jerusalem’s Old City, from short salvage excavations that last only a few days to extensive digs carried out over several years.
Over the years, the IAA (and the Antiquities Department before it) carried out a great many digs for development and building purposes, in both private homes and shops and public structures. Digs in the Knights Halls in the Christian Quarter or the Latin Patriarchate are one example. Many digs were performed after residents damaged the antiquities. In general, these sites are not open to the public, and sometimes the majority of remnants were removed so the sites could be developed. These salvage excavations are essential for ongoing life in the Old City, and in order to adapt the city to changing needs such as new construction for the growing population, tourism development etc. Under the Antiquities Authority Law, such excavations are performed throughout Israel, not only in Jerusalem’s historical basin.
In 2004, several stones fell from the Old City Walls and landed in the De Pierre College yard. This event led the authorities responsible for the Old City and its antiquities to begin preservation work of the walls. In 2007, after years of surveying and planning, the Antiquities Authority began preservation work on several sections of the wall. The work continued up to 2011, and is currently near completion. The preservation is funded by the Prime Minister’s office, which is also responsible for it. It is managed by the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA). The project’s cost is about 20 million NIS.
The current walls around the city were built in the 16th Century, early in the Ottoman rule in the region. Some sections of the walls were built over the contours of ancient walls from the Crusader period, the Muslim periods and the Byzantine-Roman periods.
Remnants of the Nea Church, dated to the 6th Century CE, were unearthed in the course of excavations in the Jewish Quarter in the 70’s. The church appears in the literature as one of the largest and most impressive of Jerusalem churches; its splendor rivaled that of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The remnants uncovered included part of the apse, a series of underground arches and the south-eastern end of the church. Above the remnants dated to the Byzantine period, a second church was found, dated to the Crusader period. This church, though smaller than the Nea Church, is among the largest of its period to have been uncovered in Jerusalem.
Today the churches are located in the central public park in the Jewish Quarter, named The Gan Hatkuma. The churches are fenced in and closed to the public. They are under the aegis of the JQDC (the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter). Ostensibly, one could visit the Nea Church after prior coordination with company offices, but generally a great deal of patience and determination are required to receive the keys to the excavation site. The site is neglected and heaped with trash; stone relics and architectural objects scattered throughout the interior are barely distinguishable from the trash that litters the site. The JQDC owns most of the Jewish Quarter; according to its plans, the area adjoining the Nea church is destined to serve as an underground parking garage for the quarter’s Jewish-Israeli residents.
This site, the largest continuous excavation in the Old City, is located south of the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif and the Old City Walls, or Silwan village. Antiquities unearthed here include graves from the Abbasid period (8-9th Centuries CE) as well as remnants from large structures identified as palaces or administrative buildings from the Umayyad period (7-8th Centuries CE). Below and beside these, the Byzantine period (4-7th Centuries CE) layer unearthed includes dwellings and a structure identified as a monastery. From the Late Roman period (1-4th Centuries CE), main findings are related to army uses, and include a bakery that served the Tenth Legion of the Roman army, which was settled in Jerusalem. Another layer has been dated to the Early Roman period. A few findings from earlier periods were also uncovered.
The area was declared a national park at the end of the 90’s, and a few years later the Davidson Center was built and the place was turned into an active museum. The area is managed by the East Jerusalem Development Company (PAMI), a city/state government body. Preparing the site for visitors included preservation and reconstruction of the Umayyad palaces, the Herodian street, buildings from the Byzantine period, and more.
In 2011 three important projects took place in this site:
The preservation work on the Ophel walls and the tunnels that were dug create a continuous tourist path linked to the City of David site in Silwan. The excavation of a connecting tunnel between the Old City and the City of David site, and the identification of the Ophel walls with the Judean Kingdom is comparable to presenting archaeological remains in the City of David as part of King David’s palace.14. ^ E. Mazar, Excavations in the south of the Temple Mount : the Ophel of Biblical Jerusalem, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, Institute of Archaeology, 1989
Towards the end of 2011, the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) is expected to publish a tender for infrastructure work in Al-Wad street, though plans for this work have been well-known for quite a while. The infrastructure work includes changing a sewage pipe that runs under the street, from the Damascus Gate to the Western Wall Plaza. In the 70’s and 80’s, the street was excavated by a number of archaeologists, so that one can assume that the area slated for infrastructure development has already been dug. It is unclear if the upcoming excavations will be used to dig yet another tunnel connecting the Western Wall tunnels, which currently end at the Via Dolorosa, to the Damascus Gate or to Solomon's Quarry/Zedekiah's Cave.
The cave is located under about a fourth of the Muslim Quarter, with an entrance outside the Old City Walls, between the Damascus gate and Herod’s Gate. The area was made tourism-ready decades ago, and is under the aegis of the East Jerusalem Development Company (PAMI). Further development work that includes bringing a sewage pipe into the cave and the construction of public bathrooms is currently underway. The excavation of an emergency exit leading outside the walls, across from Salah A-Din street is also underway. The site is being developed to host small groups.
Zedekiah’s cave served as a stone quarry for thousands of years. Testimonies of its use have been found from the Second Century BCE and until the 15th Century CE. This is one of the largest and most labyrinthine man-made caves in Jerusalem. The cave was in use over many different periods and by a variety of rulers who quarried stone for many purposes. There are no regular tours at the site, but those that do take place there during school vacations and on Jewish festivals when practicing Jews can travel, stress that the cave was used to quarry stones for the Temple (a theory which cannot be proved).
One of the few construction-free sites in the Muslim Quarter is called Burj Al-Laklak. The site is located east of the Damascus Gate and separates the Walls and the homes in the Sa’adiya neighborhood. In 1998, the Israel Antiquities Authority began digging the area to prepare it for the construction of houses intended for Jewish settlers. The project was initiated and funded by the Tourism Ministry, though it was slated for homes, not tourism. Excavations unearthed remnants of structures from the First Century CE up to the Ottoman period. The digging culminated in 2008 after partial exposure of ancient relics, and no work was done to preserve or protect the antiquities. Consequently the area is neglected and exposed relics are damaged; the site is fenced and locked. Though it has not been dug in recent years, we believe the digging will continue once the political decision is made to advance the construction of a Jewish settlement on the site.
The Little Kotel is part of a wall situated in the Muslim Quarter, in a narrow lane at the end of Bab Al-Khadid st. (which leads to the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount site). This is a small section of the western support wall of the Temple Mount, part of which is dated to the Second Temple period. The Little Kotel is identified as the place nearest to the Holy of Holies that Jews were permitted to pray at. (The Holy of Holies itself was out of bounds for everyone but the high priest). The length of this section of the wall is about 10 meters, and in recent years it has been serving as a prayer site for Jews, especially on Fridays. The designation of the area for Jewish prayer creates friction between the Palestinian residents living beside the Little Kotel and Jews who come to pray there. Residents are forced to adapt their daily lives to the rhythm of Jewish prayer and to events that take place at the Little Kotel.
Hezekiah’s Pool, a water reservoir surrounded by houses on all sides, is located in the Christian Quarter. The reservoir is rectangular, but not symmetrical. To the north it is bounded by the Coptic Khan, and on all other sides by homes and shops. The reservoir was never excavated or dated, but a drainage tunnel that connects to it was excavated and dated to the Late Roman period (2nd Century CE). It is reasonable to assume the pool is from the same period. Photographs from the early 20th Century show the reservoir full of water. Today there is no access to the pool except through homes and shops. In recent years, several initiatives were launched to clean the trash accumulated in the reservoir as it is a sanitation hazard and a source of illness and infection. Recently, a new internet group has called for a cleanup and excavation of the reservoir because it is an important site for the Jewish people. The group associates the reservoir with King Hezekiah of the 8th Century BCE, though it is clear there is no connection between the reservoir and Hezekiah, as it appears to have been built in the Late Roman/Byzantine period.
In tandem with the activity of the internet group, the Jerusalem Municipality has began cleaning the reservoir, a move which has angered the Copts, the Greek-Orthodox authorities and the Islamic Waqf, all of whom share custody of the area. The cleanup began on June 2011 and was intensive and continuous for several months. It was unilateral, as the various sides were unable to coordinate activity despite their shared interest.
Work conducted to preserve the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem or to repair and reconstruct the sewage system under Al-Wad st. is vital for preserving the ancient quality of the Old City. It is evident that much of the preservation work is not damaging to the local population, and often salvage excavations are performed to facilitate daily life in the city. Nonetheless, as we see it the effects of the archaeological projects on the Old City require review in the context of overall, widespread political trends.
The preservation and excavation work taking place in the Davidson Center – the Ophel Excavations – are performed for relics that are not outstanding, ritual baths dated to the Second Temple period, including some built in cellars or excavated in the rock. The remnants dated to the Judean Kingdom are scanty and difficult to decipher as they were destroyed and neglected, and built below layers and structures from later periods. There is no preservation of prominent and important antiquities such as the Ummayad structure and others of later periods, but much work around structures that while not well-preserved are identified with national significance for the Jewish People.
In comparison with the high level of attention devoted to relics in the Davidson Center, the neglect of the Nea Church in the Jewish Quarter stands out loud and clear. The church is almost entirely off-limits to the public, neglected and littered. Thus one of the most impressive archaeological finds unearthed in excavations in the Jewish Quarter remains unknown, and does not receive the preservation and cultivation it merits. The preservation work in the Jewish Quarter and the contrasting neglect of other sites make evident the desire to highlight the Jewish past of this area, and to link relics that are 2000 yearsold and more to contemporary residents of the Jewish Quarter. Thousands of years represented in layers from other periods are neither researched nor displayed as they should be.
Ostensibly the preservation of the Old City’s Walls, built in the 16th Century, is an exception and free of political purposes, but in fact, alongside the importance of preserving the walls, the state of Israel is reinforcing its hold on the boundaries of the Old City. The preservation work acts to exhibit and convey the boundaries placed on Palestinian residents from every direction, and displays Israeli control over the city walls. This may be the reason for the Prime Minister’s Office decision to fund this work.
Another example of the way the authorities intervene in preservation efforts can be seen in the cleanup of Hezekiah’s Pool in the Christian Quarter. The land owners (the Islamic Waqf, the Copts and the Greek-Orthodox Church) raised the need for a cleanup in the first years of the last decade, but were opposed by the Antiquities Authority. The municipality’s decision to clean the reservoir without any coordination with the landowners reinforces the assumption that the place is intended for the use of settlers or other Israeli groups. The south-western wall of the reservoir abuts the Petra Hotel, whose ownership is under litigation in a dispute between the settler organization “Ateret Cohanim” and the Greek-Orthodox Church. It is as yet unclear whether there is a connection between the legal contest and the cleanup of the pool.
The cleanup accrues to other archaeological goings-on in areas populated by Palestinians, such as the excavation at Burj Al-Laklak/Herod’s Gate, which may be currently on hold, but has been designated for a compound for settlers in one of the last open spaces in the highly-crowded Muslim Quarter. The fitting of Zedekiah’s Cave for visitors in the area between the Damascus Gate and Herod’s Gate is not part of populating the Old City with settlers, but preparing the site for large-scale events and bringing thousands of Israeli tourists into the Palestinian business center of East Jerusalem strengthens Israel’s stronghold there. At the same time, ancient relics are presented in a way that accentuates the Jewish/Israeli past in the area, though the cave served the city over thousands of years and in fact gives testimony to the continuity of multi-cultural settlement.
The sites and archaeological activities discussed here do not encompass all the archaeological work taking place in the Old City. Additional projects are being planned below the Damascus Gate in the Roman Plaza Museum Compound, in the Jaffa Gate area, and more. The projects reinforce the drive to bolster Israel’s connection to the Old City while simultaneously ignoring the link between Palestinian residents and the past. Israel’s hold on the area is not reinforced via a connection with the local Palestinian population, but via archaeological activity that is injurious to the residents and often contradicts their needs.21. ^ A. Mashiah, IAA Conservation department, Historical Cities, Jerusalem the Old City, "The Jerusalem City Wall Conservation Project"