Beneath the remains of an old Byzantine building, a few meters from the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, a small underground complex some two millennia old has been discovered, revealed the Israel Antiquities Authority (AAI) .
The structure, steep in the hard stone that makes up the geological base of the Holy City, is a particular element that archaeologists found only six weeks ago, while they continued with excavations among the lower recesses of this area full of archaeological ruins and marked by a rich ancient history.
The underground system – of rather reduced dimensions – lies under a mosaic pavement built centuries later by the Byzantines, who raised on top of it “a monumental building” with wide walls still visible that could have “religious or civil” functions, explains Michael Chernin , AAI archaeologist. However, the researchers see the complex that was buried inside as more relevant. “When lifting the mosaic floor we find this great surprise,” says the director of the excavation, Barak Monnickendam-Givon.
A unique find
He stresses that the find is “unique”, because no such structures had been found in the vicinity of the Wailing Wall, the holiest place of worship for Judaism. “It has three compartments drilled in the rock along with holes, shelving spaces and stairs,” indicating that it could have served as a pantry or warehouse. Even so, it does not rule out that it was an inhabited residence.
It was used in the early Roman period by residents of the city, in the years before the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple and all of Jerusalem, in 70 AD. and that marked a before and after for the city, according to the chronicles of the Roman historian Flavius Josephus (1st century). The dark rooms of the structure – divided into three connected levels, and entered through a low-level access – are still in the process of being excavated and the earth still covers a large part of its lower compartment. Among the ruins they found several ceramic remains, such as oil lamps.
In Monnickendam-Givon’s opinion, its construction must have been “a great investment”, both for the work involved in drilling the rock and for the place where it is located: it was “in a really privileged location” two thousand years ago, just in what was the nerve center of ancient Jerusalem. “The question is, why have so many resources and efforts been invested in digging rooms under solid layers of rock?” Asks the expert, who hopes to obtain answers as he advances in the study of the deposit, which in the long term he wants to do. accessible to the public.
The discovery in turn provides additional information on the daily life of the ancient residents of the city. Clay cooking pots, a “stone cup exclusive to Second Temple Jewish sites” or “a fragment of qalal, a large stone basin used to hold water, believed to be linked to practices, were also found. purity ritual beans “, highlights the AAI.
The current excavations are located below the entrance to the Wailing Wall tunnels, in what is now the occupied territory of East Jerusalem, and according to Monnickendam-Givon reveal the ancient “Jerusalem in all its glory: its people, religions and diversity of groups that inhabited, worked, built and glorified it for generations. ” .