Upon returning from Babylonian exile, the Bible records Nehemiah’s “night journey” in desolated Jerusalem. The view was not appealing: “..the walls of Jerusalem.. had been broken down, and its gates.. had been destroyed by fire.” (Nehamiah 2:13)
Nehemiah initiates a project of reconstructing the city walls: “let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem!” (2:17), which was excuted by many of the Jews returning from Babylon.
Jumping to the 21st century, a tour of Jerusalem these days seems do deliver a similar feeling of much construction and development.
Damascus gate, for example, was covered for the last few months by scaffoldings, as its stones were cleaned repaired where needed. Now that work is done, the nicest gate of the old city of Jerusalem now looks even nicer!
Next to another gate, Jaffa gate, ancient tombs discovered some 40 years ago, have just been re-exposed and cleaned. They date to the first temple period (10th to 6th century BCE), and indicate that some 2600 years ago this area was not part of Biblical Jerusalem, but rather its burial ground.
Not far from Damascus gate, at the big ancient underground quarry site known as “Zedekiah’s cave“, new development is both exposing more of the site, and recently installed cement floors are meant to be part of a new and much appreciated proper toilet facility at the site.
“Zedekiah’s cave” was accidently discovered in 1854 when the dog of an American scholar named Barkley fell in to a pit, eventually recognized as part of a hidden entrance into this huge cave complex. It’s date and function are not certain, but most likely it was an ancient underground quarry from the first century. Perhaps stones for the construction of the Second Temple were quarried here.
At the Western Wall (whose stones may have come from “Zedekiah’s cave”), in the men’s praying section, two shafts dug years ago had new glass floors installed over them. These windows enable us to see clearly down to the bottom of the shaft, where 2000 years ago a street passed parallel to the western wall.
And in the western part of the Western Wall praying plaza a major excavation project has recently been completed. It exposed medieval workshop which used big vats (perhaps of Jewish dyers from Crusaders times?), a Roman period avenue, and a rare find of a well preserved “four room house” structure from Iron age, among others. It is not yet open to the public, but can be seen nicely from one of the streets linking the Western Wall with the Jewish Quarter.
The most famous avenue in Roman-Byzantine Jerusalem was called “Cardo Maximus“. Parts of it were exposed in the Jewish Quarter some 40 years ago, and are now been repaired and renovated as well.
South of the Jewish Quarter, at the City of David, the ELAD organization has been sponsoring ongoing archaeological research for several years. At the moment three teams are working at the site. The most exciting project in my opinion is clearing the northern part of the Roman period sewage system under the stepped street that connected the pool of Siloam and the Western Wall. A walk inside this tunnel is one of the most exciting experiences when touring Israel today!.
Near the Holy Sepulchre new work is also on the go. This holy Christian site is a place of much tension and disputes between different Christian groups, and few changes ever take place in the building. Moving a ladder at the entrance, for example, is totally forbidden.
Yet last month I noticed that renovations of the roof taking place. This is almost an historical event!
On Mount Zion, at the traditional site of the burial of King David, renovations are also taking place. The 18th century Turkish tiles at the entrance are being cleaned, and the walls are being re-plastered.
So even veteran tourists of Jerusalem have now quite a few reasons to return and continue to explore the old city of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem today looks better then ever!.