Israeli archaeologists uncover Herodian walls in Jerusalem
By LAURIE COPANS
The Associated Press
8/8/01 2:08 PM
JERUSALEM (AP) — Just inside the ancient walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, Israeli archaeologists have begun unearthing what they believe are parts of a palace built for King Herod about 2,000 years ago.
Findings by archaeologists in Jerusalem often have political
overtones. Both Muslims or Jews use them to support conflicting
claims to the holy city. The current round of Palestinian-Israeli
fighting erupted after Ariel Sharon, now Israel’s prime minister,
visited a disputed holy site in the Old City also linked to King
But this dig, at the edge of the Armenian Quarter, seemed unlikely to ignite tensions as it is in a location that is not seen as holy to either side. The project is part of the expansion of a nearby museum.
Not far from the Tower of David, a landmark on the western edge of the Old City, archaeologist Jon Seligman climbed up and down ladders and hopped from stone to stone Wednesday in a tour of the site. Around him, workers brushed soil from centuries-old pieces of pottery.
The archaeologists say they have uncovered five walls from two
different periods. Four of the walls, built with square limestone
blocks, run parallel to each other and probably formed the
foundations of Herod’s palace.
Israeli archaeologists believe the fortress of the king, who reigned. From 37 B.C. to 4 B.C., was located a few dozen yards away from the dig under what is now a police station. They base their theory on descriptions of the area by first-century historian Flavius Josephus and their knowledge that Herod built structures on large platforms.
“There is a very strong possibility that these walls are those
terrace walls that supported the platform for the Herodian Palace,”
Seligman said. “Herod, when he did large projects, would change the topography.”
In the most famous example of Herod’s work, the Second Temple, the king had large retaining walls built at the base of a hill — the site in modern times of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound — to elevate and flatten the ground before building the sanctuary on top.
Both the Temple and Herod’s palace were destroyed by the Romans when they conquered the city in 70 A.D.
One of the retaining walls survives as the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray today.
The archaeologists have also unearthed an even older wall, built
around 700 B.C., during the time of the First Temple. This structure
may have been an outer wall of the city at the time, and may support the theory that the city was located on almost the entire length of the present-day Old City.
The dig is being carried out under the foundations of a large
building with barred windows, used as a prison by the Turks in the
19th century and later by the British.
When the British withdrew, the Jordanian army used the roof of the building as a military position until Israel captured the eastern
section of the city, including the Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war.
Seligman said he didn’t believe the dig uncovering remains of Herod’s structures would serve to support the current claims of either side to the city.
The Palestinians hope to make east Jerusalem the capital of a future state, while Israel claims the entire city as its capital.