The Southern Wall of Jerusalem that Dates to the Time of the
Hasmonean Dynasty was Discovered on Mount Zion
The southern end of ancient Jerusalem, from when the city was at its largest,
was recently discovered in the form of an impressive city wall 2,100 years old
A large excavation which is being conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority
together with the Nature and Parks Authority,
and underwritten by the Ir David Foundation,
was presented in a press conference that was held today (Wednesday)
An exciting discovery in Jerusalem constituting extraordinary remains of the wall of the city from the time of the Second Temple (second century BCE-70 CE) that was built by the Hasmonean kings and was destroyed during the Great Revolt, and also the remains of a city wall from the Byzantine period (324-640 CE) which was built on top of it, were uncovered in an extensive excavation that is currently underway on Mount Zion. The lines of these fortifications delineated Jerusalem from the south in periods when the ancient city had reached its largest size.
The new finds were presented today (Wednesday) at a press conference that was held on Mount Zion. The excavation has been in progress for the past year and a half, under the direction of archaeologist Yehiel Zelinger of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and with financial support provided by the Ir David Foundation.
The project is being implemented as part of the master plan for the Jerusalem City Wall National Park, the purpose of which is to preserve the region around the Old City of Jerusalem as an open area for tourism. In the future the remains of the ancient city walls will be incorporated in a promenade that will encircle the southern side of Mount Zion and will continue along the northern bank of Gai Ben Hinnom and terminate in the City of David.
The lines of the wall that delineate Mount Zion from the west and the south were first discovered and excavated at the end of the nineteenth century (1894-1897) by the Palestine Exploration Fund, under the direction of the archaeologist Frederick Jones Bliss and his architect assistant, Archibald Dickie. The work methods they employed involved the excavation of shafts that were linked by subterranean tunnels which ran along the outer face of the city walls.
Over the years their shafts and tunnels have filled up with soil and a year and a half ago when archaeologists were asked to determine the location of the areas that were excavated one hundred years ago they were unsuccessful in doing so. By cross-referencing the plans of the old excavation with updated maps of the area from today archaeologist Yehiel Zelinger was able to locate the tunnel which the British expedition had dug. There remained in it “souvenirs” that were left behind by the early excavators in the form of one of the laborer’s shoes, the top of a gas light which was used to illuminate the tunnels, as well as fragments of beer and wine bottles from 120 years ago.
According to Yehiel Zelinger, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Having located the two city walls on Mount Zion corroborates our theory regarding the expansion of the city toward the south during these two periods, when Jerusalem reached its largest size. 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. The exposure of the Hasmonean city wall and the line of fortifications from the Byzantine period, which is dated 400 years later and is right on top of the former, prove that this is the most advantageous topographic location for the defense of the city. The artifacts indicate that in spite of the fact that the builders of the Byzantine wall were unaware of the existence of the wall from the time of the Second Temple they constructed their wall precisely along the same route”. Zelinger adds, “The fact that after 2,100 years the remains of the first city wall were preserved to a height of three meters is amazing. This is one of the most beautiful and complete sections of construction in the Hasmonean building style to be found in Jerusalem”.
Additional Information and Details
The Byzantine Period City Wall
Christian pilgrims of the fifth and sixth centuries CE ascribe the line of the city wall’s construction to the Empress Eudocia, the estranged wife of Emperor Theodosius II. According to the historical sources of this period, the city wall was erected because of a biblical verse that appears in the Book of Psalms (51:20), “Do good in thy favor unto Zion; Build Thou the walls of Jerusalem”. In translating the Bible to Greek the word that meant “do good in thy favor” was translated with a word that greatly resembled the name of the empress. Eudocia therefore concluded that the reference was explicitly intended for her and that it was she who was destined to build the walls of Jerusalem. In the excavation a section of the city wall was uncovered that rises to a maximum height of 3.30 meters and is approximately 2.50 meters wide. The wall was built of stones that were specifically quarried and dressed for this purpose; however, one can also discern some of the stones in its construction were probably taken from nearby ancient fortifications.
The Fortifications of the Second Temple Period
South of the line of fortifications from the Byzantine period and at a depth of approximately 4 meters below the elevation of its base, a tower that is preserved to a height of 3.20 meters was exposed which dates to the time of the Hasmonean Dynasty (the Second Temple period). The tower was built on the bedrock which was straightened and made fairly level. It was constructed of large stones that are characterized by a dressed boss in their center, with no bonding material between them. The “header-stretcher” construction method used in building the tower is typical of the Hasmonean period. The tower was part of the line of the “First Wall” that is described by Josephus. Other sections of the “First Wall” were revealed at the base of the western wall of the Ottoman city wall, in David’s Citadel and in other excavations that were conducted in the Jewish Quarter. The soil fill and the pottery sherds that abut the city wall prove that it was used until the time of the Great Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the year 70 CE.
Afterwards, the stones of the wall were taken for secondary use, probably in order to build “Aelia Capitolina”, the Roman colony which the emperor Hadrian established on the ruins of Jerusalem in the year 131 CE.