Ar­chae­ol­o­gists Dis­cover Lost Por­tions of Western Wall Tun­nels

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists dis­cover an­cient the­ater, new stone cour­ses, in Western Wall Tun­nels

The Jewish Voice - - ISRAEL - By: A7 Staff (INN)

Ex­ca­va­tions con­ducted by the Is­rael An­tiq­ui­ties Au­thor­ity (IAA), with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of vol­un­teers, have un­cov­ered large por­tions of cour­ses of the Western Wall that have been hid­den for 1,700 years. In ad­di­tion, an an­cient Ro­man the­ater-like struc­ture was ex­posed for the first time.

The stone cour­ses and the amaz­ing rem­nants of the the­ater were pre­sented at a press con­fer­ence held Mon­day morn­ing be­neath the Tun­nels' Wil­son's Arch. The press con­fer­ence was con­ducted with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Western Wall Rabbi Sh­muel Rabi­nowitz, IAA Di­rec­tor Is­rael Has­son, Western Wall Her­itage Foun­da­tion Di­rec­tor Mordechai (Suli) Eliav, IAA Dis­trict Ar­chae­ol­o­gist Dr. Yu­val Baruch, and the ex­ca­va­tion's di­rec­tors.

Eight stone cour­ses of the Western Wall buried un­der an 8-me­ter layer of earth were re­cently un­cov­ered in the Western Wall Tun­nels thanks to ex­ca­va­tions con­ducted by the IAA. These stone cour­ses, com­pletely pre­served, are built of mas­sive stones and are out­stand­ing in the qual­ity of their con­struc­tion.

Af­ter the soil was re­moved, ar­chae­ol­o­gists were sur­prised to dis­cover that it cov­ered rem­nants of an ex­tra­or­di­nary the­ater-like struc­ture from the Ro­man pe­riod, con­firm­ing the his­tor­i­cal writ­ings that de­scribe a the­ater near the Tem­ple Mount.

Ap­par­ently, a great deal was in­vested in the con­struc­tion of the the­ater which con­tained ap­prox­i­mately 200 seats.

Since ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search be­gan in Jerusalem over 150 years ago, schol­ars have been seek­ing the pub­lic build­ings men­tioned in the his­tor­i­cal sources, es­pe­cially the of­ten-men­tioned the­aters and the­ater-like struc­tures. De­scrip­tions of these build­ings are found in writ­ten sources from the Sec­ond Tem­ple pe­riod (such as Jose­phus Flav­ius), and in sources from the pe­riod fol­low­ing the de­struc­tion of the Sec­ond Tem­ple, when Jerusalem be­came the Ro­man colony of Aelia Capi­tolina. Many the­o­ries were ad­vanced as to the lo­ca­tion of these com­plexes, but un­til now, they were with­out ar­chae­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tion.

Wil­son's Arch is in fact the only in­tact, vis­i­ble struc­ture re­main­ing from the Tem­ple Mount com­pound of the Sec­ond Tem­ple pe­riod. The arch, built of enor­mous stones, is the last of a se­ries of such arches that once con­sti­tuted a gi­gan­tic bridge lead­ing to the Tem­ple Mount from the west.

The arch stands high above the foun­da­tions of the Western Wall, and it served, among other pur­poses, as a pas­sage­way for peo­ple en­ter­ing the Tem­ple Mount com­pound and the Tem­ple. A huge aque­duct also passed over the arch.

Site ex­ca­va­tors Dr. Joe Uziel, Te­hillah Lieber­man and Dr. Avi Solomon said that “from a re­search per­spec­tive, this is a sen­sa­tional find. The dis­cov­ery was a real surprise. When we started ex­ca­vat­ing, our goal was to date Wil­son's Arch. We did not imag­ine that a win­dow would open for us onto the mys­tery of Jerusalem's lost the­ater.”

“Like much of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search, the ex­pec­ta­tion is that a cer­tain thing will be found, but at the end of the process other find­ings, sur­pris­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing, are un­earthed. There is no doubt that the ex­po­sure of the cour­ses of the Western Wall and the com­po­nents of Wil­son's Arch are thrilling dis­cov­er­ies that con­trib­ute to our un­der­stand­ing of Jerusalem. But the dis­cov­ery of the the­ater-like struc­ture is the real drama.

“This is a rel­a­tively small struc­ture com­pared to known Ro­man the­aters (such as at Cae­sarea, Bet She'an and Bet Gu­vrin). This fact, in ad­di­tion to its lo­ca­tion un­der a roofed space – in this case un­der Wil­son's Arch – leads us to sug­gest that this is a the­ater-like struc­ture of the type known in the Ro­man world as an odeon.

“In most cases, such struc­tures were used for acous­tic per­for­mances. Al­ter­na­tively, this may have been a struc­ture known as a bouleu­terion – the build­ing where the city coun­cil met, in this case the coun­cil of the ro­man colony of Aelia Capi­tolina – Ro­man Jerusalem.”

In­ter­est­ingly, the ar­chae­ol­o­gists be­lieve the the­ater was never used. A num­ber of find­ings at the site in­di­cate this – among them a stair­case that was never com­pletely hewn. It is clear that great ef­fort was in­vested in the build­ing's con­struc­tion but oddly, it was aban­doned be­fore it was put to use.

The rea­sons for this are un­known, but they may have been con­nected to a sig­nif­i­cant his­tor­i­cal event, per­haps the Bar Kokhba Re­volt; con­struc­tion of the build­ing may have been started, but aban­doned when the re­volt broke out. Ad­di­tional ev­i­dence of un­fin­ished build­ings from this pe­riod has been un­cov­ered in the past in the ex­ca­va­tions of the East­ern Cardo in the Western Wall Plaza.

Nu­mer­ous find­ings have been un­earthed in the ex­ca­va­tions be­neath Wil­son's Arch, some of which are unique, in­clud­ing pot­tery ves­sels, coins, ar­chi­tec­tural and ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments, and more. Ad­vanced re­search meth­ods from var­i­ous fields were em­ployed to un­cover re­mains in­vis­i­ble to the naked eye, but only view­able through a mi­cro­scope. This en­ables con­clu­sions to be drawn at a level of pre­ci­sion that would have been im­pos­si­ble in the past, trans­form­ing the study of the find­ings at Wil­son's Arch into pi­o­neer­ing, cut­ting-edge mi­cro-ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search.

“Time af­ter time the amaz­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find­ings al­low our gen­er­a­tion to ac­tu­ally touch the an­cient his­tory of our peo­ple and Jewish her­itage and its deep con­nec­tion to Jerusalem,” Rabi­novitch said. “Each find­ing thrills me to new and pow­er­ful heights. We have a great deal of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work ahead and I am cer­tain that the deeper we dig, the ear­lier the pe­ri­ods we will reach, fur­ther an­chor­ing the pro­found con­nec­tion of the Jewish peo­ple to the Land of Is­rael and to Jerusalem.”

Ac­cord­ing to Has­son, he IAA is “work­ing to­ward ad­vanc­ing a na­tional project to un­veil an­cient Jerusalem. The project was ap­proved by the govern­ment in its meet­ing mark­ing 50 years of the uni­fi­ca­tion of Jerusalem.”

“The ex­cit­ing finds from the ex­ca­va­tions be­neath Wil­son's Arch en­hance the im­por­tance of ex­pand­ing the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions in this re­gion, and I hope that these finds will help push for­ward the gen­eral plan, so that we each get to see and be awed by Jerusalem's glo­ri­ous past.

“We hope to com­plete the ex­ca­va­tions in Wil­son's Arch and all around an­cient Jerusalem with the help of high school se­niors, as part of the pro­gram "I have a stone from Jerusalem.”

“The ex­po­sure of finds be­neath Wil­son's Arch be­gan as a joint ven­ture be­tween the Western Wall Her­itage Foun­da­tion and the IAA, in an in­ter­est to cre­ate a new tourist path in the Western Wall Tun­nels,” Yu­val said. “This would pro­vide the vis­i­tor with a new per­spec­tive and ex­po­sure to the grandiose finds of re­cent years.”

“The find­ings in­clude por­tions of a mag­nif­i­cent struc­ture from the Sec­ond Tem­ple pe­riod, rit­ual baths and now the truly ex­cep­tional finds be­neath Wil­son's Arch. Upon com­plet­ing the ex­ca­va­tions, the IAA and the Western Wall Her­itage Foun­da­tion will be­gin plan­ning the preser­va­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of the find­ings."

Ac­cord­ing to Eliav, “This is in­deed one of the most im­por­tant find­ings in all my 30 years at the Western Wall Her­itage Foun­da­tion. This dis­cov­ery joins many other find­ings un­cov­ered in the area of the Western Wall Plaza, which to­gether cre­ate a liv­ing his­tor­i­cal mo­saic of Jerusalem and the Western Wall for which the gen­er­a­tions longed so pow­er­fully.”

“There is no doubt as to the im­mea­sur­ably rich sci­en­tific value of the dis­cov­er­ies in this area. The find­ings sym­bol­ize the guests from past em­pires that were here over the years, as op­posed to the Jewish peo­ple, who held fast to this place some 3,000 years ago and have been here ever since and al­ways. The un­cov­er­ing, for the first time af­ter some 1,700 years, of these stones from lower cour­ses of the Western Wall is very ex­cit­ing.

Eight stone cour­ses of the Western Wall buried un­der an 8-me­ter layer of earth were re­cently un­cov­ered in the Western Wall Tun­nels thanks to ex­ca­va­tions con­ducted by the IAA. “In most cases, such struc­tures were used for acous­tic per­for­mances. Al­ter­na­tively, this may have been a struc­ture known as a bouleu­terion – the build­ing where the city coun­cil met, in this case the coun­cil of the ro­man colony of Aelia Capi­tolina – Ro­man Jerusalem.”

“The Western Wall, a rem­nant of our Tem­ple, and the abun­dant find­ings sur­round­ing it, re­veal thou­sands of years of our pres­ence here and are a lode­stone for the hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, and more, who visit the site, as we wit­nessed re­cently dur­ing the High Holy Days and Sukkot.”

The dra­matic dis­cov­er­ies will be pre­sented to the pub­lic for the first time at the con­fer­ence ti­tled “New Stud­ies in the Ar­chae­ol­ogy of Jerusalem and its En­vi­rons,” to be held this week in at Jerusalem's He­brew Uni­ver­sity. The con­fer­ence will mark 50 years of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search since the city's re­uni­fi­ca­tion.

Is­rael's An­tiq­ui­ties Au­thor­ity's Joe Uziel stands in an an­cient Ro­man the­ater-like struc­ture in the Western Wall tun­nels in Jerusalem's old city, Mon­day, Oct. 16, 2017. Is­raeli ar­chae­ol­o­gists have an­nounced the dis­cov­ery of the first known Ro­man-era the­ater in Jerusalem's Old City, a unique 1,800-yearold struc­ture abut­ting the Western Wall that is be­lieved to have been built dur­ing Ro­man Em­peror Hadrian's reign

Is­rael's An­tiq­ui­ties Au­thor­ity's Te­hillah Lieber­man stands in an an­cient Ro­man the­ater-like struc­ture at the Western Wall tun­nels in Jerusalem's old city, Mon­day, Oct. 16, 2017

Ex­ca­va­tions at Wil­son’s Arch. (Yaniv Ber­man, Is­rael An­tiq­ui­ties Au­thor­ity)

Eight cour­ses of the Western Wall were dis­cov­ered in the ex­ca­va­tion. (Yaniv Ber­man, Is­rael An­tiq­ui­ties Au­thor­ity)

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