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  KD MAGAZINE! 
Posted:
February 11, 2007 - כ"ג בשבט, תשס"ז
 
 
 
       
   

Deep 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.

by Aharon Granot

Welcome 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 glorious history.

��

We’re 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. 

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 is where Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabban Gamliel Walked. The street used by the olei regel

The 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.

 “Look! 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.

“You 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.

“But 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 years.
"Look at the water, it's so clean and pure." Udi Regonis (right) and archaeologist Eli Shukrun (center) explain the significence of the discoveries.

Underground 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.

“Every 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.”

That’s 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 streets.

“You 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.”

Fortuitous 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. 

“You 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.

Beyond 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.

On 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.

That 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.”

The 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

 

 
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