under the road leading to the Arab village of Silwan,
archaeologists have recently unearthed, amazingly intact, the
main thoroughfare that once connected the residential area of
Jerusalem to the Makom HaMikdash, the Temple Mount compound.
Aharon Granot and Yair Cohen visit the newly discovered street,
and relive the thrilling grandeur of those ancient times.
to Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago. At any
moment, the Kohanim will appear, dressed in white, as they make their
way from the Gichon Spring to their holy posts in the Beis HaMikdash.
Imagine the small shops flanking these stairs, visualize this entire
street from the Herodian era, the time of the Second Beis Hamikdash.
Rabban Gamliel and Raban Yochanan ben Zakkai walked here. For centuries,
this street saw tens of thousands of olei regel. Now, after
millennia hidden underground, these flagstones proudly attest to its
in Ir David. Once a thriving
Jewish neighborhood, it was here that David HaMelech wrote sefer
Tehillim, Shlomo HaMelech wrote Mishlei, and many of the neviim
received their prophecies. Today, Ir David is populated mainly by
Arabs, though forty Jewish families have made their homes in the area.
Our guides are Udi Regonis, member of the El Ir David nonprofit
organization, which is funding the excavations in Ir David, and Eli
Shukron, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Together, we make our way underground, beneath the road leading down
toward the village of Silwan, to see one of the most significant
discoveries unearthed during recent digs.
Kohanim used to take this route when they went to draw water for
the Simchas Beis Hashoeva. Then they would take the broader
street back to the Beis HaMikdash
is where Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabban Gamliel Walked.
The street used by the olei regel
sight that meets our eyes is astonishing, especially when compared to
other excavations. Usually, you need a good imagination to visualize the
former splendor of now-ruined buildings, broken pillars, and cracked
stones. But here, you don’t need any imagination to appreciate the
sight. Before us is a magnificent terraced street, its flagstones
perfectly preserved, as if a maintenance man might appear any minute to
clean it for tomorrow’s busy activities.
You’d think that these steps have just been set into place!” Eli
Shukron pointed out, with obvious excitement. It isn’t every day that
an archaeologist makes such a discovery. The steps are constructed with
calculated precision: a repeating pattern of two narrow steps followed
by one very wide step, allowing people to rest a little on their way.
The pattern continues until the very end of the excavations;
archaeologists are convinced that many other exciting discoveries await
them beyond this point.
can think of this as the ‘Main Street’ of ancient Jerusalem,” says
Regonis. “Connecting Ir David to the Beis HaMikdash.” “Why did you
stop digging?” I ask. Shukron: “If we’d keep on digging, we’d
encounter Har HaBayis [the Temple Mount].” Meaning: a tinderbox
that’s sure to explode. The Waqf is not prepared to let the
archaeologists continue their work, since any evidence that Jews lived
in Eretz Yisrael thousands of years ago would undermine their claim that
Jews are occupying Arab-owned land.
even if we don’t continue any further, this is unquestionably
the biggest archaeological achievement of the digs conducted
here,” says Shukron. You can even see the entrances to the
shops that once lined the street. “These were very busy
shops,” he claims. “A thousand silver coins have been found
in the area, along with wooden quills.” So far, over thirty
yards of the street have been uncovered, beginning at the lower
edge of the road alongside the Shiloach [or Siloam] Spring. The
street is estimated to continue north
for over 600 yards, eventually linking to the road that was
uncovered at the foot of the Kosel’s Southern Wall. If the
Waqf doesn’t protest, the dig will continue for at least three
at the water, it's so clean and pure." Udi Regonis (right)
and archaeologist Eli Shukrun (center) explain the significence
of the discoveries.
Refuge As we walk up the ancient
steps, we feel as if we’ve fallen into a time warp. “Imagine!
You’re taking the same path traveled by the olei regel! First
they immersed in a mikveh, then they took this road to the Beis
HaMikdash. And now, 2,000 years later, you’re walking on the same
stones,” Shukron stresses.
such discovery intensifies our grasp of our inheritance from our
forefathers, and fills us with emunah,” Regonis adds. “Even
the greatest skeptics know that this is our place.” Eli Shukron leads
us up the street. “ ‘Touching history’ isn’t just an expression
when you’re standing here. It’s reality. Look at the walls to your
right and left, how they branch off. Once these were shops. Every time
you touch these walls, you discover something new. Here, look!” he
stretches out his arm and pulls out some pottery shards. “These must
once have been jugs that were sold in the stores. You can’t walk even
a yard here without encountering another historical relic. The street
has been very nicely preserved.”
not all. In several places, the stones are broken, and underneath, you
can see portions of a huge drainage system — large, wide drainage
canals. Even more astounding, the stones were broken intentionally, and
for a frightening purpose: Apparently, during the Great Revolt, many
Jews tried to escape Jerusalem. When the Romans pursued them, they broke
the flagstones and descended into the canals of the drainage system,
hiding there for days at a time. Their contemporary, Josephus Flavius,
described how the Romans captured Jews who were hiding under the
know what we discovered here, inside these tunnels?” asks Shukron.
“We found cooking vessels and pots, with remnants of food inside;
stone vessels and other objects still preserved from that era. Our
assumption is that these vessels were used by the Jews who were hiding
here, until they were caught by the Roman soldiers.”
Events This street, and another
smaller one that we’ll soon visit, are the crown jewels of a recent
series of discoveries in Ir David. At least two events played a part in
these astonishing underground discoveries. The first event occurred when
a sewage pipe burst, and the municipality sent a worker to fix it. Eli
Shukron and his staff were in the area, for a different dig. “When the
worker started digging along the length of the pipe, I saw that he was
unearthing remnants from the Second Beis HaMikdash Era! I stopped him at
once,” Shukron recounts. “I alerted my workers, and we began digging
around the burst pipe. After a few weeks of concerted effort, we had
uncovered this street.” At the beginning of the street is a large
spring, dating back to the time of King Chizkiyahu. This
discovery, too, was fortuitous.
know that above us there was once a street?” Shukron asks. “One day,
due to bad weather, the street collapsed. We started removing the
rubble, and suddenly we found a wide flight of stairs, alongside a
trough and the mouth of a spring. “We know that in later times, the
water from this spring was diverted to a little pool, but during the era
of Chizkiyahu, the spring ended here. During his lifetime the Beis
HaMikdash was still standing; masses of olei regel would visit,
and they needed a place to rest with their children and livestock, to
eat and drink. That was the royal spring.” It was here that the
Kohanim used to immerse before beginning their work, and this spring was
the site of the Simchas Beis Hashoeva.
the small, empty spring, there’s a large pool, filled with water,
streaming in from the Gichon. “Note the quality of the water,” Udi
points out. “It’s so clean and pure!” We continue past the pool,
to a clean, neatly paved street. Like the previous street, this is so
well preserved that you’d think it was constructed only yesterday. In
the center of the flagstones there are small marked stones, which can be
removed to reveal drainage canals, remainders of the infrastructure of
Jerusalem of old. This street runs roughly parallel to the larger street
that we visited first, and was apparently used for people traveling in
the opposite direction: from the Beis HaMikdash back to the area
of the pool. The Kohanim used to take this route when they went to draw
water for the Simchas Beis Hashoeva. Then they would take the broader
street back to the Beis HaMikdash. This street was also used by the
masses of olei regel on their way back to their lodgings.
our way out, we notice a huge, wide flight of stairs. “This was
undoubtedly a royal staircase,” Udi tells us. “A commoner would
never have access to such a wide, beautiful flight of stairs.” Then he
adds: “There’s a well known story. When King Sancheirev of Assyria
tried to capture Jerusalem, Chizkiyahu diverted the waters of the Gichon
to a pool in the southern part of the city. The diversion was
accomplished by hewing a canal nearly 600 yards long, an astonishing
engineering feat. An inscription in ancient Ivri script, discovered in
1880, about six yards before the Shiloach Spring, describes this effort.
“The canal was hewn in both directions simultaneously, but the two
parties of diggers were not convinced that they’d
meet successfully. So when they
did indeed meet, it was with great joy.
joy is described poetically in the inscription. “For many years, we
wondered where that pool could be,” Udi continues. “If you follow
the canals today, you will indeed come to a pool, but that pool can’t
be the one described in the inscription; it dates from a later period.
It was only when the modern-day street collapsed, after we removed the
rubble, that we discovered the true Pool of Chizkiyahu.”
excavations stop in the middle of the street, though the archaeologists
hope to continue. “If we continue digging, we’ll reach the Kosel
Tunnels,” Shukron explains. “But
in order to continue, we need a government permit. But that could have a
major impact on international relations, even cause a serious crisis, as
occurred when Sharon dared to ascend Har HaBayis.”
Originally published in Mishpacha
Jewish Family Weekly Issue 145 February 7, 2007 http://www.mishpacha.com